Rural Arizona fire district preparing for the next big wildfire
PEEPLES VALLEY, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- Peeples Valley is located between Wickenburg and Prescott, just north of the mountain community of Yarnell. It is surrounded by mountains and forests. Like every other alpine community, Peeples Valley is at risk of being overrun by wildfire.
It nearly happened 10 years ago. The Yarnell Hill Fire was beating down on Peeples Valley before it made a turn and headed for Yarnell. Peeples Valley was spared, but over 100 structures in Yarnell were destroyed. Worse than that, 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots were killed.
One of them was Garret Zupigger. “I told him, I said, ‘Don’t put out all of the fire. Save me some of the fire.’ I thought that I would get to fight the fire with my grandson,” said Capt. Lew Theokas, who works for the Peeples Valley Fire District and was Zupigger’s grandfather. “Just the idea of being on the same fire with him was something to look forward to. But it didn’t turn out that way.”
It’s just one example of the connection between Peeples Valley and the Yarnell tragedy. But there are important lessons that resulted as well. One of those lessons is the need to protect homes and other structures from the threat of fire. According to firefighters, the easiest way to accomplish that is to clear away thick shrubs and brush and “thin the forest” near the community.
Peeples Valley Fire District has been focusing on that for the past four years. “Our goal is to remove the fuel that creates the most aggressive fire behavior,” said Fire Chief Shawn Bomar. He has spent years tracking down grants and putting the plan in motion. This year alone, the department has cleared 170 acres of excess vegetation.
This year, part of the Valley was declared a “Fire Wise” community. “Fire is going to be here someday. But hopefully, we’ll be able to manage it a little better with that fuels reduction,” said Bomar.
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