By Mike McClary
The Arizona Republic

Like many Arizonans, I’m not originally from here. I hail from Michigan and have spent time in Colorado and Texas, places that have distinctive summertime threats.

Whether it’s a tornado, severe thunderstorm or a Houston chemical plant explosion, you eventually learn how to prepare and respond.

When I was living in those other states, I’d see footage on television of raging Arizona wildfires and think “Wow, that’s scary.” Then I’d turn the channel.

I recently said the same thing, but I wasn’t watching TV and couldn’t flip to ESPN. I was standing on my front porch, watching the flames from the “Bart” fire that burned more than 23 square miles of Sonoran desert last month near Bartlett Lake.

While it might have been a mildly interesting news report to someone in, say, Chandler or Tempe, to those of us living in the Rio Verde foothills, the blaze was an unwelcome sneak preview of how vulnerable our area is this time of year.

By all accounts, the conditions today – dry weeds and scrub brush, fueled by heavy winter rains – are more dangerous than usual. It’s the same devilish recipe that cooked up the “Troon” and “Rio” fires in the 1990s. It’s why so many of us in Rio Verde are taking precautions to keep our wildfire threat under control as much as possible.

When we moved to the Rio Verde area three years ago, the first thing we did was gleefully donate our lawnmower, weed trimmer and lawn edger to Goodwill. Twenty-some years of lawn maintenance were enough.

But after the soaking rains of winter, our property began to look more like South Dakota prairie than Arizona desert. And with each passing day, the lush green weeds quickly became an unruly fire hazard surrounding our house, not to mention the other 50-plus homes in our neck of nowhere.

That’s why we – and several neighbors – recently were at the hardware store, picking up new weed trimmers.

Our neighborhood usually is quiet on weekends, not counting the kids on four-wheelers, but lately it has been humming with the sound of weeds being whacked.

It’s a strange feeling, really, doing all this work and merely hoping it pays off. We understand that despite our preparations, we’re still at the mercy of a careless smoker or a random lightning strike.

We only can do so much.

Unfortunately, not everyone is taking the fire threat seriously. That leaves all of us at risk. I heard of one resident who told a neighbor that he moved out here because he can’t stand homeowners associations. He doesn’t want anyone telling him to clear his yard.

Get over it.

Let’s face it. Every day that we go without rain is another day that our area turns into a bigger box of matches.

As Dr. Phil would say, we need to “get real” – or prepare to see our homes engulfed in flames on the evening news.

Mike McClary is a free-lance writer who lives in the Rio Verde area. He can be reached at michael.mcclary@gmail.com. The views expressed are those of the author.

By Mike McClary
The Arizona Republic

Note: This is an updated version of this column. Orginally the paper rejected it claiming it didn’t have a news angle. Recently, in response to a heroin bust, the Scottsdale school district voted to allow drug-sniffing dogs in the high schools next fall. I had found my news peg and here’s what they ran. Also, the column ran alongside an AP photo with the caption: “A Rottweiler sits in the driver’s seat awaiting his owner’s return. What, he wasn’t allowed in the store to shop for himself?”

What’s all the commotion about allowing drug-sniffing dogs to roam Scottsdale high schools?

If you hadn’t noticed, dogs seem to be permitted just about everywhere else in Scottsdale, so why not the halls of academia?

According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association Inc.’s Web site , there are approximately 65 million owned dogs in the United States.

I’m convinced 10 percent of them are here.

Don’t believe me? The next time you’re out running errands, look around. Dogs are everywhere in the Northeast Valley.

Define “everywhere,” you say? I’m glad you asked, because I’ve kept a running list: the bagel shop, the coffee shop, the hardware store, the warehouse club, the crafts store, the grocery store . . . shall I go on?

Notice I didn’t mention a pet store or park, two places where I spend little time but would expect to find a hound – or several dozen.

Of course, I’m not talking about guide dogs or a pooch chained to a tree while its master runs into the quick mart for antacids. I’m talking about ol’ Rex going for a leisurely stroll with his pet parent in the paint section of a big-box hardware store. And little Lulu sitting in the cart while Aunt Mimsy shops for picture frames.

Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t there enough danger inside a stadium-size hardware store with the forklifts and teetering stacks of lumber? Should I have to worry about my daughter once again coming face-to-face with a German shepherd on aisle seven?

On a couple of occasions, I’ve seen store managers ask a dog owner to take the mutt outside. In both instances, the dog owner looked incredulous, as if to say, “Are you kidding me? I’m buying this socket wrench for the dog!”

Can you imagine the payday if a shopper’s dog bit someone inside a store – especially a store that didn’t sell four-legged animals?

Until recently, I looked forward to sitting outside a bagel shop on weekend mornings, munching on breakfast. Nowadays, though, it’s a tough choice. Do I want to listen to the chorus of dogs barking at each other, or do I want a bowl of oatmeal at home with my screaming kids?

Oh, I know what you’re thinking: Hey, pal, I don’t want to eat next to your screaming kids any more than you want to eat next to my frothing Rottweiler.

Trust me, I don’t want to eat with my screaming kids either, but until laws are loosened so I can leave a baby home with a bowl of water and a chew toy, I’ll be bringing them with me.

Yes, I know the day will come when my kids beg me to buy them a puppy. If I’m at all like my parents, I’ll eventually succumb to the pressure.

Not because I’m a sucker, though. No, it’ll be because I want my kids to live in the real world – even if it’s Scottsdale’s version of the real world.

And to do that, I need to get them used to being around dogs everywhere they go.

Mike McClary is a freelance writer who lives in the Rio Verde area. He can be reached at michael.mcclary@gmail.com. The views expressed are those of the author.