There are two things all Patagonia residents should know.
1. If we have a firestorm in our town, the majority of structures of all types in our town will be badly damaged or destroyed.
2. It doesn’t have to be this way.
A firestorm is the combination of high temperatures, low humidity, high winds, sufficient fuels, and fire. “Red Flag days” are when all three of these weather elements are present, and the probability that any fire that starts will spread fast, and have enormous destructive potential is high.
Our fire season typically starts in May when the highs temps and low humidity set in, and generally ends in July when the summer rains raise the humidity. A crucial example that removing one of the five elements of a firestorm can prevent it in many cases, and diminish the destructive damage from it in almost all cases.
We have no control over the weather, and each year has been getting hot and dry earlier. This year we’ve had over a dozen wildfires in our area before the “season” technically starts. That’s an abnormally high level, and an indication of our higher risk under our current drought conditions. We’ve seen firestorms ravage communities such as the Marshal Fire in Colorado this winter that destroyed over 1,000 structures in 24 hours. Not even close to fire season, it actually snowed there the very next day.
This year we face another elevated threat. Last summer’s heavier than usual rains created an abundance of plant growth, “fuel loading” in Fire Service terminology. Fortunately, fuels are the one element of a firestorm we can control to some degree. By eliminating some plant matter, and spacing out the remaining fuels (landscaping trees, shrubs, and even smaller plants as well as firewood piles and other combustible items around our homes) we can greatly increase the survivability of individual structures, and even entire communities. Choosing non-combustible materials for decks, siding, roofs and other elements of a property also has an enormous impact on a structure’s survivability.
Firewise is a proven, scientifically developed program of strategic fuel reduction and spacing that increases by many times the effectiveness of Fire Services’ response capabilities, and improves outcomes. It is a program of community-wide planning and action to reduce and space fuels well in advance of a wildfire, when such actions are most easy and effective. We as a community need individuals who wish to establish and maintain a Firewise program to protect our town.
Patagonia Volunteer Fire and Rescue (PVFR) can take the lead, but our volunteers train for, and respond to a wide array of emergencies in our community. Other civic minded people will need to participate in leadership positions. Please contact Jeff Maxwell (520-305-5606) or Zay Hartigan (520-604-0200). Go to https://www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/Fire-causes-and-risks/Wildfire/Firewise-USA for more information.
While a Firewise community requires most or all members to actively participate and takes time to establish, any property owner can immediately take steps to implement Firewise principles on their property and increase their structures survivability right now. Obviously it will not be as effective as a community-wide effort, but it absolutely improves the odds that firefighters can effectively protect structures in a wildfire.
PVFR members Jeff or Zay will come to your property and assess it’s survivability as well as help you create and understand a strategy to implement Firewise principles. The sooner you do so, the better. Firewise is like a seatbelt for your home. They are both designed to provide some protection in a calamity. And both need to be put in place BEFORE tragedy strikes.