The wildfire threat facing communities in the
western United States is undisputed. According to the United
States General Accounting Office (GAO)
fire suppression policies on public lands coupled with population growth
in wildland areas created increased risk to communities from wildfire
disasters. Over the past decade, scores of lives were lost, tens of thousands
of square miles of land was devastated, and thousands of homes and other
structures were destroyed from damage inflicted by wildfire. Increases
in population in the inland West coupled with the appeal of living in
closer proximity to public lands create situations that expose more people,
property and infrastructure to the risk of wildfire than at any time in
recent history. The GAO estimates 60-100 million acres of public land
and hundreds, if not thousands, of communities in the public land interface
are at risk.
While many factors contributing to the intensity of
wildfires cannot be controlledwind, weather, humidity, temperature,
and drought conditionsthere are many actions that can be taken in
the long and short term to respond to the threat of wildland fire hazards.
The two dominant national-level policies to address the risks posed by
Fire Plan and the
Governor's Association (WGA) 10-Year Comprehensive Strategy
Implementation Plan, identify four common goals for wildfire management
to address long term threats posed by wildfire: 1) improving fire prevention
and suppression, 2) rehabilitating and restoring fire-adapted ecosystems,
3) reducing hazardous fuels, 4) promoting community assistance. With these
goals in mind, communities are urged to thin, conduct controlled burns,
restore forests, suppress fire, create defensible space around homes and
communities, undertake public education about wildfire and create markets
for skilled work forces capable of removing and processing small diameter
timber and forest restoration byproducts to respond to the threat of wildfire.
But little is known about what is being accomplished on the ground or
what combinations of responses are used at the community level.
Great uncertainty surrounds the scope and success
of community responses and why some communities manage to foster constructive
responses to wildfire risks while others fail to do so. In the past decade
a natural experiment has occurred in the inland portion of the western
United States as communities have taken different approaches to responding
to the threat of wildfire. This research investigates the scope of actions
taken to adapt to wildfire risks in Arizona. The goal is to supply baseline
data for what communities are doing on the ground while also providing
an overview of statewide action.
The work in this study took place in two phases1)
a state-level analysis of wildfire risk to communities and their responses;
2) community-level case studies of responsive practices. The Governor's
Summit to Mitigate Wildfire Hazards in the Arizona Wildlan/Urban Interface
(2000) identified 61communities at the highest risk and greatest potential
for loss. Of those 61 communities, 25 were awarded one or more National
Fire Plan grants in 2001 or 2002. These communities served as a state-level
National Fire Plan grants awarded to
each community were compiled to determine relative levels of responsiveness.
Three communities were chosen based on their high level of responsiveness
to their wildfire threat; Prescott, Flagstaff, Eager, while Heber-Overgaard
was chosen based on a relative lack of responsiveness. The research entailed
site visits to each community, in-person interviews, document and photographic
analysis, participant observation and on-site tours. View Summary
of Data Collection Techniques as PDF. The
case studies were analyzed according to the four goals identified by the
Western Governor's Association 10-Year Comprehensive Strategy Implementation
Site visits to case study communities took place
from September 2003 to June 2004; September 15-19, 2003, Prescott; December
1-4, 2003, Eager; December 8-12, 2003, Flagstaff; and Heber-Overgaard,
June 7-11, 2004.
The four case study communities in Arizona were chosen
based on their degree of responsiveness to the wildfire problem, as indicated
by the ability to secure National Fire Plan funding in FY 2001-2002. Eager,
Flagstaff and Prescott garnered $890,030, $1,112,049 and $657,440 each respectively.
Heber-Overgaard was chosen due to the high level of risk and the low level
of funding dedicated to the problem-- $50,110. By the time we did our field
work in Heber-Overgaard in 2004, the town had increased its attention to
its wildfire problem and was procuring greater funding to address its problem
through the National Fire Plan.
Arizona is notable for its two most proactive communitiesFlagstaff
and Prescott. Both have undertake impressive efforts to improve fire fighting,
preparedness and reduce hazardous fuels. Flagstaff is additionally noteworthy
for its emphasis on restoration through the Greater Flagstaff Fuels Partnership.
Eager and Heber-Overgaard in the eastern part of the state are less active
than Flagstaff and Prescott. Eager has dedicated impressive resources
to developing a small diameter tree utilization industry. Its focus is
to unleashed economic potential in the restoration of neighboring forests.
Collaborative activity is distinguished in Prescott
and Flagstaff. Flagstaffs Ponderosa Fire Advisory Council (PFAC)
is a 16-member group that includes all fire agencies within the greater
Flagstaff area, along with Coconino County, Northern Arizona University,
and the National Weather Service. PFAC meets once a month to discuss and
act upon a variety of wildfire issues. The Greater Flagstaff Forests Partnership
(GFFP) is an alliance of 25 academic, environmental, business and governmental
organizations dedicated to testing and adapting new approaches to restoring
forest ecosystem health in the forests surrounding Flagstaff. The Prescott
Area Wildland/Urban Interface Commission (PAWUIC) is the main entity for
coordinating activity to respond to the wildfire threat facing the Prescott
area and was created to facilitate interagency cooperation. PAWUIC is
a city and county jointly chartered, unpaid, volunteer, citizen-led commission
that includes key individuals from city, county, state and national agencies.
The Interagency Fire and Emergency Management Group (IFEMG) is part of
PAWUIC but also independent of it. It brings together the Fire Chiefs,
the designees and emergency management teams to work over plans including
the evacuation plans.
Improving fire prevention and suppression
In Arizona, the county has no suppression responsibility.
Flagstaff and Prescott have professional fire departments with paid employees.
Eager is a voluntary fire department and Heber and Overgaard are unincorporated
areas that support their fire department through its fire district. All
fire departments were well prepared to address their respective threats.
Flagstaff and Prescott have impressive building regulations to reduce
the risk of wildfire to homes and property. Defensible space and evacuation
are the major components to Prescotts education program and they
have a Wildland Urban Interface Coordinator who is responsible technical
and administrative work involving wildland fire safety and forest health.
Reducing hazardous fuels
Arizona State Lands makes funding available through
State Fire Assistance (SFA) to incentivize and assist communities to reduce
hazardous fuels. All communities with the exception of Eager participated
actively in hazardous fuel reduction activities through the SFA program.
In Heber-Overgaard, homeowners associations were especially active
in requiring hazardous fuel reduction through covenants and education
and outreach. Flagstaff has been especially effective in changing community
attitudes about risk and prescribed burning. Today, cutting trees and
setting fires are so common in Flagstaff that people do not question either
practice. Flagstaff also is unique because it has its own Fuel Management
Division within the Fire Department that engages fuel reduction and education
programs. Prescott and Yavapai County have a coordinated response to deal
with hazardous fuel reduction on private property.
Restoring fire adapted ecosystems
Little restoration work is being planned and implemented
in the targeted communities with the exception of Flagstaff. The Greater
Flagstaff Forests Partnership (GFFP) is an alliance of 25 academic, environmental,
business and governmental organizations dedicated to testing and adapting
new approaches to restoring forest ecosystem health in the forests surrounding
Flagstaff. The GFFP is dedicated to testing and adapting new approaches
to restoring forest ecosystem health in the forests surrounding Flagstaff.
The GFFP is seen as a major asset to the community and has been very successful
in pioneering new techniques and approaches to ecosystem restoration.
The Partnership seeks to analyze 100,000 acres of WUI around Flagstaff
in 10,000 acre blocks per year and implement forest health and fire reduction
projects. The Partnership began after several severe fires burned around
the city of Flagstaff in 1996.
Promoting community assistance
Eager and Flagstaff stand out as being the most proactive
in creating economic opportunities from forest by-products. A critical
mass of small diameter timber (SDT) providers and utilizers is developing
around Eager. Eager and Flagstaff have been working at the state level
to create incentives for biomass and other renewable energy resources.
Utilizers creating power from biomass have benefited from Arizona Power
Service (APS) desire to find renewable energy sources. In February 2001,
the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) adopted the Environmental Portfolio
Standard (EPS) which established goals that all utility companies that
sell retail electricity in Arizona generate a percentage of their electricity
from renewable resources. Twenty years from now, the GFFP envisions the
greater Flagstaff area will be home to a small but thriving sector of
businesses based on the ecologically sustainable utilization of forest
products. Business will include primary producers of forest products,
as well as value-added processors, such as manufacturers of
fencing and custom building materials, furniture makers, wood pellets
Ironically, finding a steady supply of projects and
SDT is the biggest challenge facing the region. SDT producers and utilizers
need a dependable pipeline of work and materials on which to build their
emerging businesses. Providing this supply has proven difficult due to
contracting issues, EIS problems, fires and other obstacles. In 2004 Apache-Sitgreaves
National Forest near Eager awarded a contract for the
Mountains Stewardship Projecta ten-year, 150,000 acre project
that will offer from 5,000 acres to 20,000 acres of forest lands to contractors
each year, making this project the largest restoration project in the
nation. Many believe the White Mountain project will be the key to successfully
developing the SDT industry in the area. Stewardship contracts are the
key to the White Mountain project. A stewardship contract allows for the
costs of removal of small diameter residue and slash to be exchanged for
the value of the excess forest products that are removed.