The Rim Country, which includes the area underneath the Rim from Pine-Strawberry through Payson to Christopher Creek, is situated within the largest stand of beautiful Ponderosa Pine trees in the world. It is clear that within the beauty of this forest lies the possibility of a major disaster, in the form of uncontrollable forest fires. Pine has the distinction of being rated as one of the top ten areas in the country for the potential of catastrophic wildfire, due to specific geological effects in Pine Creek Canyon.
This danger has grown enormously in recent years for the entire Rim Country. Tree density has changed from 3-10 trees per acre in 1900 to, in many cases, over 1000 per acre today. Many of the largest wildfires in Arizona’s history have impacted this area, including the Willow (119,500 acres), the Cave Creek Complex (248,310 acres), and the Edge Complex (71,624 acres). The Dude Fire only burned 28,480 acres, but it resulted in the deaths of 6 firefighters, proving that even relatively small fires in the area pose a great risk to inhabitants and to those firefighters trying to keep them safe. Each year more than 150 wildfires are reported in the Rim Country from lightning strikes or human carelessness, each one capable of economic devastation and loss of life and property.
Our ability to live safely in this fire environment depends greatly on pre-fire activities taken by residents to protect lives and property. Pine Strawberry Fuel Reduction, Inc. has a history of active participation in wildfire prevention programs and activities. Prior to its formation in 2004, there were very few wildfire mitigation efforts being made in this small community, or the area as a whole. At that time the local advice was to pack your favorite belonging beside your front door or in your car during fire season to ensure that you had them with you if you were required to evacuate during a catastrophic wildfire. Pine Strawberry Fuel Reduction, Inc. gained national attention in 2005 by spearheading a fund drive in the private sector to fund maintenance of the fuel break (a cleared area of forest) on Forest Service land surrounding the community. This project was imperative due to forest fires burning nearby, but the federal government did not have the available funds. The project not only provided this community with the wildfire protection that it desperately needed at that time, but it also was cited as one of the best examples of community/agency cooperation in the country.
Other projects undertaken by PSFR include reseeding the fuel break with native grasses in order to facilitate a natural burning cycle and the construction of a small diameter wood Ramada at the Pine Community Center, a demonstration project intended to show a practical application for the forest products that surround us.
Numerous otherwildfire education and mitigation projects, including installing Firewise signs along main ingress and egress routes in town and building a Firewise Trailer, a mobile wildfire education classroom, have been undertaken and accomplished by PSFR through community and agency support and cooperation.
Pine Strawberry Fuel Reduction, Inc. is a completely volunteer 501(c) 3 nonprofit community organization and is dependent entirely upon private donations and grants for its operation. The relative cost of funding fire prevention programs and activities is certainly small in comparison with all that we stand to lose here in the Rim Country.