Improve Fire Prevention and Suppression Reduce Hazardous FuelsRestore Fire Adapted Ecosystems Promote Community AssistanceSummary
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Flagstaff location mapFlagstaff sits at the base of the San Francisco Peaks in the midst of the largest continuous ponderosa pine forest in the world. The Coconino National Forest surrounds the entire city and the Flagstaff wildland urban interface (WUI) covers approximately 140,000 acres of national forest, state forest, military, national park, Flagstaff city and privately owned lands. Flagstaff covers approximately 40,000 acres at high risk of a WUI wildfire; 11,400 acres of private land, 8,600 acres of state property and 20,000 acres of federal land.

According to the 2000 Census, the population of Flagstaff is 52,894 with a median household income of $48,427. The median home value is $161,000 with almost 47% of the homes seasonally occupied. The city is surrounded by several highly urbanized subdivisions, including Doney Park, Timberline, Fernwood, Fort Valley, Kachina Village, Mountainaire and Forest Highlands.

Flagstaff's Threat

The Flagstaff area experiences nearly 400 wildland fires each year and approximately 60% are caused by lightning. There is a large transient population that lives in the forest during months of high fire danger and creates an added risk of human ignited fires. Most pine forests in the area are overstocked with many sites having as many as 1,500 plus tree per acre.

In June 1996, lightening ignited the Hochderffer Fire that burned 16,115 acres. During the same time period the Horseshoe Fire burned 8,650 acres. The fires served as the turning point in the community for addressing wildfire risk. According to Assistant Fire Chief Jim Wheeler, "Having fires on the edge of the city and fires within the city limits, the community was essentially panic stricken." Since that time, Wheeler believes they have been able to expose the two great lies, that every tree is good and every fire is bad. "Neither one of them is true, but that's been thought for generations."

Changing attitudes within the community have been one of the real successes for Flagstaff. The Flagstaff Fire Department Fuel Management Officer (FMO) Paul Summerfelt reflects, "Prior to 1996, it was wrong to cut a tree and who in their right mind would set a fire? Well, next spring [2004] within the city we will cut our one millionth tree. We now light more fires than we put out." Today, cutting trees and setting fires are so common in Flagstaff that people do not question either practice.


Flagstaff city picture


Addressing the Threat

While the Flagstaff Fire Department has been key in changing attitudes, other efforts have complemented these activities. In 1996 while the Fire Department was embarking on the paradigm shift about trees and fire, a coalition formed with leadership from the USFS, the Grand Canyon Trust, the City of Flagstaff and Northern Arizona University. This multi-lateral effort became the Greater Flagstaff Forest Partnership (GFFP). The GFFP is dedicated to testing and adapting new approaches to restoring forest ecosystem health in the forests surrounding Flagstaff. The GFFP is a major asset to the community and has been very successful in pioneering new techniques and approaches to ecosystem restoration. According to Summerfelt one of the reasons for Flagstaff's success has been the involvement of a major university with the scientific and academic credentialing that comes with the university. "The people there are national leaders at restoration work. So there's a lot of attention focused here. I think it just adds a legitimacy to this whole effort that only the university with their standing in this involvement could bring."

Flagstagg WUI

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Copyright©2004 Toddi A. Steelman and North Carolina State University

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