Special thanks to the National Fire Protection Association, U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Arizona State Forestry Division, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, photograph Kari Greer and Sunshine Pictures for their support of this project.
Arizona is a “wildfire state,” which is another way of saying our state has a history of destructive wildfires. Summers here are hot, dry and windy--the perfect conditions for wildfires. Each year an estimated 1,500 wildfires occur in Arizona. Most are caught early by firefighters, but there’s simply no way to predict when or where the next large fire might spark.
In the past five years alone, large wildfires have burned over 850,000 acres and caused $100s of millions in damages and lost income. The Wallow Fire, the largest wildfire in Arizona's history, consumed over 538,000 acres, forced the evacuation of thousands, and damaged or destroyed 78 total structures in Apache, Greenlee, Graham and Navajo counties in 2011.
SEE Photos of the Wallow Fire Response (source: Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests)
Still, the financial and emotional impacts of Wallow Fire on people and property could have been much worse. Thankfully, according to the United State Forest Service, firefighters in the community of Alpine, Ariz., for example, were able protect specific homes and businesses in the burn area because property owners thinned trees and brush, landscaped with fire-resistant plants, and built away from slopes and with fire-resistant materials.
READ How Fuel Treatments Saved Homes from the Wallow Fire (source: United States Forest Service)
The Firewise Communities Program® is a national fire prevention and mitigation campaign that “teaches people how to adapt to living with wildfire and encourage neighbors to work together and take action now to prevent losses.”
TEST your knowledge with our Learn to Live Firewise quiz.
Destructive wildfires pose a real threat to people who own homes and run businesses in the wildland-urban interface (WUI), a term defined as the "area where homes meet or intermingle with undeveloped wildland vegetatation" (Radeloff et al., 2005). Arizonans with a home and/or business in the WUI can mitigate the risk posed by wildfire.
A person can be said to be "Living Firewise" when he or she takes perceptible steps to reduce the impact of wildfire on lives, property and the local economy.The Firewise Communities Program advocates a tiered approach to wildfire mitigation that advocates managing vegetation (e.g., thinning trees and bushes, and landscaping with fire-resistant plants) to create defensible space around your property, and building away from slopes and with fire-resistant materials.
As of late 2014, the Arizona State Forestry Division has designed 60 communities as being Firewise. The road to transforming your home or business into a Firewise property starts with these simple steps:
- Check the list of Firewise® Trees, Shrubs and Grasses before you start your spring planting.
- Complete the online Firewise® Landscaping course.
- Read the Homeowners' Firewise® Guide for Arizona.
- Take a virtual tour of a Firewise® home.
- Perform a Home Safety Inspection:
- Clean roofs and gutters of dead leaves and debris.
- Trim trees that overhang your house.
- Replace or repair loose or missing roof shingles.
- Enclose under-eave and soffit vents or screens with metal mesh.
- Cover exterior attic vents with metal wire mesh.
- Repair or replace broken windows and damaged or loose window screens.
- Screen or box in areas below raised patios and decks.
- Move flammable materials such as mulch or firewood piles away from exterior walls.
- Remove anything stored underneath decks or porches such as lawn furniture.
- Call your local fire department to schedule a Firewise® property assessment.
Living Firewise also means being all-hazard prepared. Whether it’s a wildfire in northern Arizona, flash floods in Phoenix or extreme heat in Lake Havasu City, every Arizonan needs to take precautions; every Arizonan needs to Make a Plan, Build a Kit and Be Informed.
DOWNLOAD a Family Emergency Communications Plan template
Have Their Backs (2015)
Wildfire mitigation is the focus of a new public service announcement (PSA) campaign from the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) titled Have Their Backs. The statewide campaign will run April through June and includes radio and television spots in English and Spanish, and billboards in communities, including Sierra Vista, Heber-Overgaard and Prescott, that have experienced large wildfires in the past. The PSAs pay tribute to all the wildland firefighters who “go to extraordinary lengths to save lives and property,” and asks Arizonans to “have their backs” by making simple property improvements to protect lives and structures.
“Wildland firefighters risk their health and safety every time they go out on the line,” said DEMA Deputy Director Wendy Smith-Reeve. “One way people can honor firefighters’ public service is to live Firewise.”
LISTEN to the Have Their Backs radio PSAs (aired in cooperation with the Arizona Broadcasters' Association):