Getting Real About, and Ready for, NE Valley Wildfire Threat

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.

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