Prescott case study
Improve Fire Prevention and Suppression Reduce Hazardous FuelsRestore Fire Adapted Ecosystems Promote Community AssistanceSummary


WGA Goal - Reduce Hazardous Fuels

Actions to meet goal

  • Reduce acres at risk
  • Ensure communities most at risk receive priority
  • Expand and improve integration of hazardous fuels management program
  • Incorporate public health and environmental quality considerations in fire management activities
  • Develop smoke management plans in conjunction with prescribed fire planning
  • Address fire-prone ecosystem problems
  • Maintain areas improved by fuels treatment
  • Conduct and utilize research to support the reduction of hazardous fuels in WUI communities
  • Factor in local environmental conditions during fuels treatment planning

Local Fuels Reduction Efforts

Prescott City/Yavapai County Defensible Space and Slash Disposal Program

Prescott and Yavapai County have a coordinated response to deal with hazardous fuel reduction on private property. The Central Yavapai Fire District works in conjunction with Yavapai Emergency Services and Prescott Fire Department to help land owners treat their property. They have two dominant programs to assist in the treatment of private property-a program to create defensible space around homes and a program that places a chipper in a community to help residents chip their slash and dispose of excess vegetation. Both programs are free to the residents. The idea for the fuels management program was put together by Prescott Fire Chief Darrell Willis. When the National Fire Plan monies came along in 2001, Prescott and Yavapai County were prepared to take advantage of the grants. Prescott and Yavapai County now have a total of five chippers to reduce hazardous fuels in the area.

The Prescott City and Yavapai County Defensible Space and Slash Disposal program is funded by two separate grant programs. The Arizona State Fire Assistance (SFA) grants have helped pay for salaries for brush crews to do the defensible space work, while FEMA mitigation grants have helped defray expenses associated with the purchase of three chippers to facilitate the slash disposal program.

Arizona State Fire Assistance (SFA) Grants

The Arizona SFA Grant Program targets hazard mitigation in the Wildland Urban Interface for mitigating risks of hazardous fire conditions through fuels reduction, information and education and homeowner and community defensible space treatments. The program is a 50/50 match, that requires homeowners to pay 50% of the cost for creating defensible space. In 2001 and 2002, Arizona disbursed almost $3 million in SFA grants to communities throughout Arizona.

PAWUIC was awarded $168,000 in 2001 and cubhouse thinning$360,685 in 2002 in SFA grants to help pay for the fuels reduction program. The SFA grants provided funding for the wildland division and brush crew salaries. While the Arizona SFA Grant Program requires a 50% homeowner contribution, in Prescott the city and county absorb this cost. Matching funds have come from the Prescott Fire Department and the Central Yavapai Fire District, in kind equipment donations for the Arizona Public Service Company and equipment maintenance performed by Yavapai County, and volunteer hours donated to the project. Nick Angiolillo, with Yavapai County Emergency Management, is the fiscal agent for the Arizona State Fire Assistance grants.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Grants

FEMA Mitigation grants provided $49,500 through 50/50 match grants that enabled the county to purchase a chipper in 2000 and two chippers in 2002. PAWUIC raised the money from the county and local companies such as State Farm Insurance and Arizona Power Service for the 50% match. Once the chippers were purchased and brush crews funded, PAWUIC began providing the service to homeowners.

Homeowner Assessments and Defensible Space Projects

Yavapai Emergency Services and the Central Yavapai Fire District send out mailings, sponsor community meetings and send firefighters out to the neighborhoods to promote the fuels reduction program. People call the fire departments who want to have their property treated and they are placed on a list. The brush crews go in community by community and do the work. When the crews move into a new community, the residents on the list are called and advised the crews will be working in their subdivision. An assessment on the property is required prior to treatment.

The Fire Department completes a 30-foot assessment of how to treat the property. The prescription used by Central Yavapai Fire District is basically to space things out-to see light between the trees, keep the trees from touching. Prescott Wildland Division uses the Prescott Vegetation Plan to determine defensible space. From 2001 to the end of 2003, Prescott Fire Department and Central Yavapai Fire District have completed 2097 assessments and treated a total of 2059 properties or homes.

On average depending on the property and the vegetation, the brush crew can treat three properties a day at a cost of $1,200 a day or $400 per property. If a contractor is hired to treat the property the cost is between $1,200-2,500 per property.

Initially, only six people signed up for the SFA Grant Program. People were concerned about how the property would look. But, soon after the first properties were thinned in 2001, applications for the program increased to 300. After the Indian Fire in 2002, applications increased as well. There was a backlog for a while, but now the Fire Departments are catching up. Interest has slowed in 2003, since it was a wet year and there was no fire.

Since the beginning of the program in 2001 to the end of 2003, PAWUIC has thinned more than 2,698 acres of the highest risk properties in the Prescott Basin. At least another 1,000 homes have treated their own properties with the help of PAWUIC's chipping support. From May 2002 to May 2003, 628 properties were treated, and 687 properties were assessed, and 1,800 properties are on the waiting list.

Slash Dump Site

slash dump costThe slash from defensible space projects is taken to the county dump where PAWUIC has negotiated discounted fees. Instead of charging $55 for a pick up truck full of debris, the county now charges $5. The county also has "free" dumps days twice a year. On those days the dump is opened and people can bring in their slash and brush.

Disposal/Utilization of the Debris

The Prescott area has a surplus of debris from defensiblebrush disposal sign space and thinning projects.The city has 30,000 cubic yards of chipped material in storage. In August 2003, Prescott City Council approved the purchase of an air curtain destructor to help dispose of slash and other yard waste. The device costs $100,000 and prevents smoke and flaming debris from escaping. According to Yavapai County Emergency Manager Coordinator Nick Angiolillo, disposing of the surplus debris is equally as challenging as developing the defensible space. "The county tried using an air curtain destructor, but it was too slow. Commercial development holds the most promise toward a permanent solution to this problem".

Hazardous Tree Removal Program

In addition to the defensible space and slash disposal programs, in January 2003 the city and county started a Hazardous Tree Removal Program. The Tree Removal Program evolved in response to the demand for bug infested and killed trees to be removed. Residents were paying up to $350 to remove a bug kill tree from their property. Prescott Fire Chief Darrell Willis contacted a local logging contractor to determine the cost to remove trees a subdivision at a time. They worked out a deal where the contractor removes all hazardous trees for $35 and the city charges an additional $15 to remove slash. This is in contrast to hundreds of dollars per tree that homeowners were being charged. The effective cost to the homeowner is now $50 per tree.

People call the fire department to have their name put on a list. The contractor removes the trees and the fire department sends the bill to the homeowner. The south side of town initially was prioritized for work and now they are moving north. By the end of 2003, the program had removed 9,723 trees in the city and county. The tree removal program basically pays for itself. In 2004, the fire department plans to increase the cost by $10 a tree to allow the program to remain self sustaining. Consequently, the inside of the city is in good shape-not many brown or dead trees. Outside the city is a different story. In Yavapai County, the County Works Department now is taking over the program to help homeowners in the County.

Future Challenges

Maintaining the properties after treatment is a problem. The summer of 2003 was very wet and the vegetation grew. Prescott Fire Department sent out letters to the properties that were treated in the past and asked that property owners maintain their defensible space. But it is unclear how many homeowners have maintained their property. In the county, only about 50% of the properties are being maintained.

Another problem is created if the State Fire Assistance Grant Program goes away. The Prescott Fire Department would like to be in a position where they still would be able to hire a six person crew to do the defensible space and brush work.

Apathy is also a problem. With one wet season, people begin to forget about the high wildfire risk. After the Indian fire everyone wanted defensible space. The Prescott Fire Department was bombarded with work. Since then there has been a decrease in interest. Duane Steinbrink, Prescott Wildland Urban Interface Coordinator, believes that is where the apathy comes in. "That's where we have to step back and do the education process again". An additional problem is dealing with the bug killed trees—no one is prepared to take the wood which makes those areas expensive to treat. Beyond Warren Kuhles, a local recycler, and a sawmill in Ashfork there are few options for debris disposal.


US Forest Service (USFS) Projects

The Prescott Basin is 60,000 acres with 30,000 homes and $2 billion worth of property. In 2000 the USFS treated 1,760 acres in the Prescott Basin Vegetation Project and 531 acres in 2001.

Boundary Project

The Prescott National Forest will be funded almost $1.2 million for fuel reduction projects in FY2004. The USFS has several projects underway and more planned. The USFS has initiated a project creating a horseshoe shaped buffer around the southwest side of Prescott called the "Boundary Project". The project entails treating 28,000 acres on USFS property and 5,000 acres of private property over a period of 10 years. The project will cost $10-15 million, including repeat burnings. Mechanical treatment could cost $500-800 an acre. The project was sent out in May 2003 for public comment. Currently the USFS is completing the environmental analysis and assessment in response to issues raised during the comments period.

The project includes commercial harvesting, so it has become controversial. Prescott National Forest Friends (PNFF) has raised the most questions. "[The USFS] have completely ignored the impacts on the watershed" said Jim Powers of PNFF. The Boundary Project is on areas of land with some loose, granite type soil that will be subject to erosion that may pose a threat to water quality.

The NEPA analysis for the Boundary Project cost $300,000 and took 1.5 years. The prescription is to thin to 40-60 basal area within a quarter mile of private land, then from a quarter mile out feather it out from 60 basal to 100 basal. A big issue is how to handle bug killed trees, according to Roy Fluhart, Prescott National Forest Fire Planning Group Leader. "If you cut them all down or even leave a few for snags, you've exceeded your 40-60 basal area." Figuring out how to deal with bug kill trees is currently holding up the project. To date, no work has been done on the Boundary Project. Another big challenge on the Boundary Project is air quality. The ponderosa pine ecosystem requires frequent fire and the USFS will need to burn 1,200 acres a year, which might be opposed by the public.

Other USFS Projects

The Boundary Project is just one of several projects in the Basin. While the Boundary Project is still in the planning stage, other projects are being implemented or are being maintained with burning. The USFS has planned and carried out several fuels reductions projects even prior to the National Fire Plan. They started on the concept for the Boundary Project in 2000, before the Fire Plan came along. The Fire Plan provided the needed funding.

Southwest of Prescott is a priority for fuels reduction projects due to the prevailing winds and because this area is where most of the human caused fires are started. Fuels reduction projects around subdivisions are prioritized according to where the most people benefit. In 1998, brush crush was used on 311 acres at Crooks Maverick. 500 acres in Ponderosa Park was treated with prescribed fire in 1999. In 2003 the "Kingswood Hassayampa Brush Crush" project was initiated. This project entails a total of 1,357 acres under treatment near the Thumb Butte Recreation Area at a cost of about $430 per acre for brush crews. The goal of this project is to reduce the height and density of chaparral fuels by 70% and subsequent threat of wildfire hazard. The remaining 30% is left in place for wildlife protection, watershed, soil and riparian resource values. Goats were used on 300 acres at a cost of $65,000, but have not been as effective as hoped.

Arizona State Land Projects

The Arizona State Land Department manages state trust land in Arizona. There are 10 million acres that are held in trust for 13 public institutions, mostly schools. The land generates revenue. The State Fire Management Division within the Land Department prevents and suppressed wildland fires on state trust land and all private land outside of fire districts. Most state land is low desert scrub and does not surround communities that have been identified as high fire risk. However Arizona State Land manages Government Acres, 1,500 acres of land south of Prescott and this area is considered high risk. A fuels reduction project is currently being planned. The assessment is complete and the management plan is close to completion. The assessment was contracted out for $35,000 to Rich Van Demark and $100,000 is slated for implementation. Additional funds are needed to complete the entire project area. The communities on the north end of Government Acres are the priority due to the predominate winds, which would funnel right up the canyon. The second priority is on the east end of Prescott and the community of Oak Knolls to the south is the third priority.

State Farm Insurance Reinspection Program

State Farm Insurance is pioneering a wildfire reinspection process in Prescott as part of their regular reinspection program. After the Rodeo-Chediski fire around Show Low in 2002 and the smaller Indian Fire in Prescott, the agency realized, "there's only so much that can be done to prevent forest fires but a lot can be done to prevent claims". The program will be implemented in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona. State Farm started the program in Prescott by mapping all the areas that were at the greatest risk-areas for agents to be aware of. The maps help the underwriter when he or she inspects the property. When the underwriter is with the homeowner, then the agent can advise on the creation of defensible space before they underwrite and give the homeowner an option on the policy.

State Farm is currently in the process of informing existing policyholders by mail about the new defensible space policy. LuWanna Nielsen, State Farm Public Affairs Specialist, hopes working with customers over the period of 18 to 24 months will encourage them to take the appropriate action on their property. Articles and notices also are appearing in the newspaper. To assist homeowners in dealing with the new policy, State Farm has contributed to the purchase of three chippers and defensible space signs for neighborhoods.

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Copyright©2003 Toddi A. Steelman and North Carolina State University

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