Public opinion needed on fire plan - Tucson News Now

Public opinion needed on fire plan

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Pima County is looking for the public's reaction to a new fire prevention plan.

The plan has been dedicated to the Granite Mountain Wildland crew who were killed June 30, 2013 in Yarnell, Arizona.

"Best we can tell, these guys probably lost their lives because they were going to protect structures," says Dugger Hughes, a Battalion Chief for Northwest fire who spent 40 years fighting wildfires. "Whenever structures are threatened, we become more aggressive trying to get in and save those structures."

And that plays a large role in the Pima County Community Wildfire Protection Plan.

The plan surveys five million acres to determine which parts of the county are most at risk.

But there's little in the plan which talks about how people can take action to protect their homes.

There is nothing about penalties for non compliance or enforcement.

Instead the plan will be used to determine risk, and hopefully, to receive federal dollars which will help mitigate the risk. 

It's in response to the Healthy Forests Restoration Act passed by Congress in 2003.

President George Bush came to Arizona and Summerhaven on Mount Lemmon a few months after he signed the bill.

He had a perfect backdrop to promote his efforts.  

"Within sight of where we stand are the results of wise forest policy and the ruins of unwise forest policy" he said at the time.

It was less than two months after the Aspen fire destroyed much of the town.

"It will give us he opportunity to go after grant money to go into good work in the local area," Hughes says.

Reducing the threat to homes also reduces the risk to firefighters.

"We don't have enough firefighters out there to protect every home," Hughes says.

Homeowners who take the time to protect themselves "typically survive the fire and they don't put firefighters in harm's way."

It's recognized that even though there has been an aggressive education program, many areas remain a high risk, usually because the homeowners don't recognize the risk.

Neighborhoods where alleyways are grown up with dead weeds and tumbleweeds can be a hazard to an entire community.

People don't typically clean those areas because they don't often realize the risk.

Some of the highest risk areas in Pima County include the Catalina Foothills and the Tucson Mountains.

Those are areas where homes may sit on one to three acres and are surrounded by vegetation.

"Embers can travel a quarter mile to a mile," Hughes says.

A fire will create its own wind and blow the embers across a wide swath.

If homeowners don't take the time to clean an area, it can be risky because firefighting equipment can't reach some of the more rugged areas.

It's hoped the dollars that may come to the area will also help promote awareness.

"We hope homeowners will take the time to protect themselves," Hughes says.

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