Photo Credit: During the Arizona WUI summit, Arizona’s Firewise Communities were recognized with awards. Photo by Anne Mottek, Greater Flagstaff Forests Partnership

Fire adapted communities was a common theme during the recent Wildland-Urban Interface – Living with Wildfire in Arizona Summit. FAC principles were embedded in the opening remarks, presentations, display booths, and even in the evening mixer and closing event. Members of the Greater Flagstaff Forests Partnership (GFFP) and the newly formed Arizona FAC Network steering committee participated in the summit to learn about their peers’ fire adapted communities (FAC) practices and to understand how they can help protect their communities and ecosystems.

This was the second year the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management (AZDFFM) hosted the summit. The purpose this year was to provide homeowners, fire departments and wildland firefighters with information and suggested actions related to reducing loss and increasing community safety. The summit covered fire ecology, hazardous fuels reduction grants, insurance issues, risk assessments, outreach, Ready, Set, Go!, Firewise U.S.A., emergency management and forest health.

Representatives from numerous nonprofits, as well as private, city, county, state, and federal agencies attended, including AZDFFM, Bureau of Land Management, USDA Forest Service, Arizona Prescribed Fire Council, Southwest Fire Science Consortium, Arizona Public Service, Salt River Project, Arizona Community Tree Council, the Arizona Office of the State Fire Marshal and the National Fire Protection Association.

During the opening plenary, Jeff Whitney, AZDFFM’s highly regarded state forester and event host, shared that three percent of Arizona’s lands are in the wildland-urban interface (WUI). Yet, an overwhelming proportion, 45 percent, of Arizona’s residents live in the WUI. This enforced the need to advance fire adaptation so that neighborhoods and communities in these areas are more resilient to wildland fire. Flagstaff City Council member, Charles Odegaard, then expressed the city’s interest in forest health and FAC, praising GFFP for its efforts and accomplishments over the past 21 years.

In another presentation, Chief Morgan from the Pinetop Fire Department highlighted the Cedar Fire of 2003 (the largest wildfire in California’s history). The fire burned 280,000 acres and destroyed more than 2,000 homes; 15 people lost their lives. The severe repercussions of the fire resulted in California’s adoption of a WUI code. In reflecting on this, Chief Morgan said that he is determined to reduce wildland fire risk in and around Pinetop, which is located in northeastern Arizona. Pinetop plans to become one of the first “Hubs” in the newly formed statewide FAC network. Reinforcing the effort, Mark Brehl’s presentation highlighted GFFP as a member of the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network (FAC Net) and described how our involvement has benefited GFFP and the Flagstaff community. He explained that adopting a network model at the state level would yield similar benefits by spreading the FAC concept further and creating strong connections throughout the state.

A homeowner limbing trees in front of his house

An Arizona homeowner limbing trees as part of a Firewise Community certification. Credit: Mark Brehl, Greater Flagstaff Forests Partnership

At the end of the summit, attendees completed written evaluations. When asked what they liked most about the summit, one respondent said, “the connections made with others who are currently operating a Firewise Community.” Attendees shared plans to “[implement] more Firewise practices/maintenance at home” and “start a Firewise program for my community.” As they reflected on how many friends, colleagues and neighbors they planned to share this information with, responses ranged from 10 people to more than 3,000 (the latter listed by a fire manager).   

Lastly, a “Learning Laboratory” was conducted by Joe Stutler and Katie Lighthall of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Strategy (Cohesive Strategy). A Learning Laboratory is a dynamic, interactive, facilitated session that allows participants and presenters to create a culture of inquiry and to achieve shared group learning. Learning Laboratories:

  • Occur outside of a traditional setting (e.g., not via PowerPoint and not in a classroom);
  • Focus on a specific topic,
  • Emphasize collaboration;
  • Are guided by a facilitator; and
  • Culminate with a breakdown of information that creates shared learning.

During the closing plenary, attendees shared their experiences regarding the implementation of the three tenets of the Cohesive Strategy. Mark stated that of the three tenets, FAC seems to be the most nebulous and difficult to operationalize. However, he added, the information presented at the summit offered several implementation opportunities. At the end of the summit, an awards ceremony acknowledged newly formed and maintained Firewise Communities across the state.

From the perspective of GFFP and Arizona FAC, the summit reinforced the need to develop and expand a statewide FAC network. The day before the summit, the Arizona FAC Network’s steering committee met for the first time face-to-face and developed mission and vision statements, as well as initial strategies.

Watch this press coverage regarding the summit and its importance to Arizona.

Please note that comments are manually approved by a website administrator and may take some time to appear.