Improve Fire Prevention and Suppression Reduce Hazardous FuelsRestore Fire Adapted Ecosystems Promote Community AssistanceSummary
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H-O location mapHeber-Overgaard (H-O) is situated in northeast Arizona in the midst of Navajo County at approximately 6,500 feet altitude. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the full time population is 2,722. Summertime population numbers climb to nearly 12,000. Median family income is $35,380 and median household income is $28,665. Median value for owner-occupied housing is $110,500.

The vegetation surrounding H-O is made up of thick stands of untreated, small-diameter ponderosa pine on private and federal lands. Within H-O some 10,251 acres of private and federal land have been identified as at high risk for wildfire. Another 21,000 acres are identified as at moderate risk. The areas to the south ofaccess and egress picture the communities are at the greatest risk due to prevailing southwest winds. Bear Heights and Section 31 neighborhoods are at risk in particular due to limited access and egress and dense vegetation.

Land ownership in the H-O area is private, but surrounded by federally owned lands. As noted by H-O Fire Chief Jack Ingraham, "We're pretty much land locked by the Forest Service here." Retirement and tourism are increasingly important to the H-O economy. H-O is a haven for those wishing to escape the heat of Phoenix, nearly 60% of the houses are second homes.



Rodeo-Chediski Fire

Rodeo-Chediski burn

June 18th 2002 was the start of the Rodeo-Chediski Fire, which destroyed 268 structures in H-O (mainly in Overgaard) and burned some 460,000 acres. It was the largest fire in Arizona history. Overgaard was evacuated for nearly two weeks while the fire was fought. This fire has significantly raised awareness in the area.

Addressing the Threat

In the past H-O has not been very active in pursuing or receiving National Fire Plan money to address its very real threats. However this appears to be changing with the arrival of a new fire chief. United States Forest Service (USFS) representative Mark Empey feels that there has been little funding in H-O because the previous fire chief did not focus on securing mitigation funding -his focus was on suppression. Chief Ingraham says that the biggest WUIchallenge is that the unincorporated areas cannot pass ordinances or regulations requiring defensible space. "I believe by being unincorporated we don't have the enforcement powers of getting people to clean their lots". H-O cannot pass ordinances requiring property owners to create defensible space. Local homeowners see the challenge differently. In regards to wildfire mitigation, homeowners Roy and Betty Weber cited the biggest challenge facing H-O is the absentee landowners that bought their properties for investment purposes, have not built, and do not ever come up to the area. A continuing challenge is public education. "A large problem with these communities across the rim is so many of the landowners are absentee. They are summertime visitors."

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

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