Fire Prevention & Protection Plan


December 1993

Introduction

An increased awareness of fire danger was articulated at the December 1991 homeowner’s meeting; as a result, several people volunteered to research the options available to us to both prevent catastrophic fire and to facilitate prompt and effective fighting of any fire that does get started on or near the property. Members of the team have included Erik Powell, Jan Powell, Cynthia Lunine, Tom Morse, and Katherine Hazen. In 1992, team members spoke with the Sonoita/Elgin Emergency Services, Inc.(SEESI), U.S.D.A. Forest Service fire management specialists, fire ecology, dendochronology, and range management faculty at the University of Arizona, and at least one local cattle rancher. Some literature related to fire history and behavior in this region have provided some indications of what Casas may have looked like before it became a cluster subdivision.

History of Fire in the Region of Casas Arroyo

The body of evidence that is available indicates that fire has been an integral and often-present dynamic of the oak woodland/semidesert grassland that includes Casas Arroyo since before the advent of recorded history. Volcanoes and lightning fires were perhaps the first causes of wildfires; in the last thousands of years, man-caused fires became significant as well.

Beginning with the post-Pleistocene (post-Glacial) presence of Archaic Period native American peoples (including both hunters and gatherers), fires are thought to have moved through the Madrean woodlands in a seven to fifteen year cycle. Fires started by these peoples were designed to drive game for hunting, and to accelerate potential plant production for grazing. The Pimic Sobaipuri as well as Apachean groups followed suit for the aforementioned reasons, as well as for agricultural land- clearing. At the time of Spanish, and later Anglo contacts with these groups, they were practicing extensive slash- and-burn agriculture.

The paleontological record of this area remains largely unstudied, and there is therefore little evidence one way or another about grazing patterns before Spanish contact. There are remains of very large herbivores (mammoths) as well as smaller extinct mammals in sites nearby, and modern populations of browsing/grazing animals such as mule deer. Sheep, goats, cattle, and horses were all grazed in this immediate area from the time of Post-Columbian contact to the Anglo- American period. According to Spanish Jesuit documents of the Pimeria Alta mission, Chief Coro and his Pima Sobaipuri band grazed animals in Los Reyes de Sonoitag, near the Fort Crittenden site. From the late nineteenth century to the present, horse and cattle grazing, and wood- cutting made significant impacts upon the ecosystem.

Since the development of the Casas Arroyo de Sonoita subdivision nearly two decades ago significant new interventions and resultant changes have been inserted into the ecosystem dynamics. Fire suppression policies, the lack of large herbivores and/or predators, increased fire danger from fireplaces, smokers, presence of highways, presence of homes and roads, have assisted in creating an ecosystem different from that of any previous era. As the dominating influence on this land at this time in history, the residents and owners of the Casas Arroyo subdivision have accepted the responsibility to manage it for preservation of the values they have collectively identified.

An open homeowners meeting was used to present findings of the initial research by the team and to obtain individual input as to values associated with the property.

 


 

Values Assessment from an Open Homeowners Meeting

Three general categories of topics were evaluated by ten people, who stayed at the February, 1991 meeting to provide input to this process.

The first category, Values, has 8 items. The second category, Prevention, is a list of 6 techniques that may be used to reduce the probability of a catastrophic fire, and the third, Firefighting, is a list of 5 strategies that may aid firefighters should a fire actually start on or near the property. Voters were asked to assign a priority on the first two categories, one being lowest preference, 5 being the highest, and to write any comments they wished. The charts summarize results. (See Appendix A for the original data and comments.)

Casas Arroyo Characteristics
Natural Look   3.9
Homes   3.4
Wildlife   3.5
Vegetation   3.6
Narrow Roads   2.8
Privacy   2.6
Low Cost   2.6
Health   3.2
Prevention Options
Citizen Watch   3.2
Mowing   3.2
Picking Up Wood   3.5
Pruning   2.5
Grazing   1.9
Prescribed Burn   1.0

The fire prevention team recognizes that the ten people who participated represent only a sample of homeowners; the responses and specific comments, however, show that the exercise was valuable as an indicator of the relative acceptability of some of the management options, and of the relative values placed upon some of the characteristics of the Casas subdivision.

 


 

Fire Facts

  1. The most common initiator of fires in this region is lightning, and the most common time of the year for lightning-caused fires is in the mid-to-late summer monsoon. Because of fire suppression and fire-fighting practices, Casas Arroyo may have missed from 8 to 20 naturally-occurring fires in the last 100 years, allowing dead, flammable materials to build up to abnormally high quantities.
  2. A grass fire on the Audubon Society Research Ranch Preserve May 6, 1987 top-killed approximately 25% of all oaks in the area of the fire. Of these, nearly half of the trees did not resprout (did not grow back from the roots). The topography, plant communities, and amount of fuel on the research ranch site are similar to that of Casas Arroyo.
  3. Additional fire danger may be incurred at any time of the year from cigarettes thrown out of cars on the highways (or on the property), and by careless handling of fire sources (such as children playing with matches, improper storage of flammables, burning of trash, etc., sparks flying from unprotected chimneys, incorrect processing of fireplace embers).
  4. Fire increases in intensity (heat), and speed of travel as the following factors increase:
    1. dryness of the air (lowered humidity)
    2. wind speed (increased oxygen to fire)
    3. upslope of the land (even a very small slope may increase the speed and heat of the fire tremendously)
    4. amount of fuel, especially fine fuels (dry grasses and leaves) and highly volatile fuels (juniper and cliff rose)
  5. The only factor (from above) that can reasonably be modified is the amount and location of the fuel.
  6. Compacted fuels (matted vegetation, leaves, animal droppings) do not burn quickly, but may smolder for long periods of time.
  7. Dry grasses burn much more quickly than trees because of their large surface areas; the oldest trees that do not have a great deal of debris and small branches on the ground at their bases may be immune to an average grass fire that has not been driven into the crowns of trees. Juniper and cliffrose is more volatile and will burn more quickly than oak brush.
  8. Wildlife, except for some rodents and insects, are usually able to escape to protected ground from a wildfire, unless the fire is of unusual extent, or is wind- driven at a high rate of speed.

 


 

Policy

Prevention Policies — Impacts on the Casas Arroyo property from fire prevention activities are to be performed with the goal of reducing the danger of a catastrophic fire, not only to homes, but to vegetation and wildlife. Local fire-fighting organizations have told us they will always place first priority on protection of lives and structures, not oak trees or wildlife habitat. Some protection of our oak trees and other vegetation has been effected by the existing cries-crossing of roadways (as firebreaks), and may be somewhat improved by reducing the grasses, small branches, and brush at the bases of vulnerable trees. Because of their slow growth rate, the oak trees have a particularly high value. The following recommendations are labor-intensive and on-going maintenance activities that may, at best, slow or reduce the intensity of a lightning or human-caused fire. We realize that not everyone is able to adopt all the policies, but ask you to comply with as many as you can. As research into more effective and palatable techniques becomes available, the fire committee will consider amendments to this document.

Any of these policies should be performed only after assessing and minimizing the specific visual impact to the “natural look” of the property. Any questions should be resolved with the fire team or Board of Directors.

Fire Break Policy

  1. At least once a year, before nesting season and before the summer fire season, mow along the highway or the railroad to create a firebreak between the highway and Casas Arroyo.
  2. At least once a year, mow no more than eight feet on each side of interior roads (excepting private drives) to create fire breaks.
  3. At least once a year, mow one swath around water tank, water tank access road, and well sites.
    Ladder Fuel
  4. Clearing of small dead wood for the purpose of reducing ladder fuels at the base of oak trees, junipers, and shrubs is encouraged under the following guidelines:
    1. No motor vehicles shall be driven off-road on hillsides, or in areas where they are likely to destroy vegetation or leave obvious evidence of their presence.
    2. No dead wood larger than 10 inches in diameter is to be removed, because it may provide habitat for wildlife. (Wood of this size is not likely to carry a fire.) No standing snags or stumps are to be left with saw marks or scars (from the removal of smaller branches) that are visible from roads or adjacent properties.
    3. No live wood is to be removed from common land except for the removal of small branches or shrubs that may constitute ladder fuel from the lower levels of vulnerable trees near homesites. Any pruning on common land shall be undertaken with great caution, and should not change the overall original appearance of the tree, nor be visible from roads or adjacent lots without approval of the owners.
    4. Leaf litter should not be raked cleanly from under trees, because it provides habitat for insects consumed by native bird species, and is an important component of the ecosystem. Excessive -piles of undecayed leaf buildup (greater than 3 inches), combined with other fuel, may be removed.
    5. Any material removed from under trees should be either completely removed from the property, stored safely for use as fuel by the homeowner, or chipped and dispersed as mulch on the ground well away from trees. Any dispersal on common land should be as compact on the ground as possible to reduce air spaces that increase flammability. Again, any dispersal should also be with the intent of minimizing visual impact (no piles of brush, leaves, or branches)
  5. Both new and existing structures with fireplaces or wood stoves are required to have spark arresters installed on all chimneys or stovepipes.
    Spark Arrestors
  6. Ashes should never be stored on the property unless wet through and cold, but should be disposed of on unvegetated land on the homeowner’s lot, or carried to the community landfill. Fireplace ashes are not to be disposed of on common land.
    Fireplace Ash Disposal
  7. Do not hoe or rototill firebreaks–this causes soil disturbance leading to erosion and introduction of nonnative weeds such as tumbleweed.
  8. Treat wood roofing and/or siding with fire-retardant chemicals. Have enough garden hose available to reach all parts of the roof. Clean gutters and roof of all debris and leaves.
  9. Don’t allow newspapers and rags to accumulate. Keep flammable liquids in unbreakable containers.
  10. Locate barbecue grill away from trees and vegetation, and, preferably, 30 feet away from structures. Clear grass or vegetation at least 10 feet on all sides of grill.
  11. Store firewood well away from structures and trees (30 feet), if possible.
  12. Mowing grass around individual homesites in order to create a firebreak is at the owner’s discretion and should be performed with great caution to prevent sparks from the mowing equipment from igniting an accidental fire. (The U.S.D.A. Forest Service general guidelines for firebreaks specify a minimum 30 foot firebreak around all buildings on flat land and more (up to 100 feet) if the building is on a slope.) Overhanging branches or adjacent trees are to be kept trimmed at least 10 feet away from the chimney or stovepipe. Any modifications should be performed with the intent to minimize visual impacts.
    Mowing Pattern
  13. Owners of new and existing dwellings are encouraged to incorporate additional guidelines from the USDA, as applicable.

 


 

Fire Prevention Checklist

At Least Once Annually:

  1. Mow along the railroad.
    Responsibility: Casas Arroyo Homeowner’s Assoc. .
  2. Mow sides of interior roads.
    Responsibility: Casas Arroyo Homeowner’s Assoc.
  3. Mow around water tanks and well sites.
    Responsibility: Casas Arroyo Homeowner’s Assoc.
  4. Mow around homesite.
    Responsibility: Homeowner
  5. Check/remove ladder fuels in trees around homes
    Responsibility: Homeowner
  6. Review the date fire-retardant chemical retreatment is required on wooden decks, siding.
    Responsibility: Homeowner
  7. Remove leaves, debris from roof and gutters.
    Responsibility: Homeowner

Ongoing Homeowner Responsibilities:

  1. Keep woodpile 30 feet from structures and large trees.
  2. Continue to make improvements to your structure (such as boxing in eaves and screening all attic and basement vents) that will reduce the risk of your home igniting.
  3. Landscape near your home with plants that are not highly volatile (not manzanita, juniper, or cliff rose, which contain oils that burn quickly and with greater heat). Squawberry, ceanothus, and oak are better choices, because they are slower to catch fire and slower to burn.
  4. Keep dry grass mowed around your house’s perimeter (twice – annually is usually enough).
  5. Ensure your county number is clearly visible from the main drive, so firefighters can find your location quickly.
  6. Make an evacuation plan, using the checklists below. Each member of the family should know what their responsibilities are. Rehearse this plan at least once a year.

Homeowner Equipment Checklist

We suggest you have this eguipment on hand, even if you are not physically capable of using all of it. Others may use it to help control a fire near your home.

  1. Enough 5/8-inch garden hose to reach the far side of your house
  2. Long-handled round-pointed shovel
  3. Heavy-duty rake
  4. Heavy-duty hoe
  5. Long-handled axe
  6. Backpack pump for 5 gallons of water
  7. Protective clothing (cotton, not polyester; long trousers; longsleeved shirt or jacket; protective helmet or hat; gloves; goggles; large handkerchief to fit over face, nose, and mouth; ear protection [from hat or another handkerchief])
  8. A metal ladder that can reach your roof
  9. Several multi-purpose fire extinguishers scattered at key locations around your house and other structures.
  10. Buckets and trash cans for holding water
  11. Wood or metal blocks to place over foundation and attic vents, even though the vents are screened

 


 

In Case of Fire – Checklist

  1. Follow the Fire Emergency Instructions for dialing 911 and assessing the location and nature of the fire. If the fire seems to be threatening, or if SEESI tells you to prepare to evacuate your home, follow the instructions below.

    As time permits, follow the instructions below. do not risk your safety or that of others!!

  2. Close all openings: windows, doors, garage doors, attic and foundation vents (use the wood or metal blocks you prepared).
  3. Place door protection equipment over the outside of windows and deck doors as available (shutters, outside drapes, aluminum foil, plywood nailed over windows, etc.).
  4. Remove flammable curtains and drapes from the interior of windows and deck doors. Close all venetian blinds.
  5. Fill buckets, trash cans, other large containers with water. Soak burlap sacks, small rugs, or large rags for beating out burning embers and small fires.
  6. Fill all bathtubs, sinks, washing machine, etc., with water.
  7. Bring all flammable outdoor furniture and other combustibles indoors.
  8. Clean all needles, leaves, and other debris off the roof.
  9. Put as many vehicles as possible inside the garage, facing out for a fast getaway. All vehicles left outside should also face out. Close all windows in the vehicles. Close garage doors and windows. Disconnect automatic garage door opener; test to be sure manual opener works properly.
  10. Place your valuables and pets in the car to be used in evacuation.
  11. Open the fireplace or woodburning stove damper but close the fireplace screen.
  12. Turn on lights in each room.
  13. Turn off pilot lights at propane appliances.
  14. Turn off propane at supply tank.
  15. If emergency authorities recommend it, evacuate those in your family, and pets that need to leave. Know where they are going and the exact route they will take. Plan for future communication. Follow all instructions from emergency authorities!
  16. Using the 5/8-inch hose, soak as many flammable grasses and trees as you can reach around your home, as well as the roof and walls of the house.
  17. As time allows, for slowly-moving grass fires only, you may attempt to create a firebreak between the fire and your home by clearing the ground, with shovel and hoe, of flammable materials to a width of 2 or 3 feet. Small fires started by embers may be extinguished with soaked towels or a backpack pump. Note that a fire that is already burning in the crowns of the trees, or being driven by wind, or burning up a hill can move a fire at a tremendous speed and will easily jump any firebreaks you can create yourself. Leave immediately if the fire is moving swiftly, or if your escape road is in danger of being overrun !
  18. If emergency authorities insist you evacuate, follow their instructions immediately.

Do not risk your safety or that of others!

 


 

Acknowledgements

  • Ayola, Ed (USDA Forest Service, Sierra Vista fire management). meeting with fire committee. 1992.
  • Babb, Geoffrey Dean. Sprouting Response of Quercus arizonica and quercus emoryi Followinq Fire. master’s thesis. University of Arizona. 1991.
  • Caprio, Anthony. Fire Effects on Two Species of Oaks in Southeastern Arizona. unpublished paper for Dr. Richard Strauss. University of Arizona. 1991?
  • Cermak, Bob, Doug Leisz, Gene Murphy, Clint Phillips. Protecting Existing Homes From Wildfires in Western Nevada County, California. California Fire Safe Consultants. Oroville, CA. 1991.
  • Cermak, Bob, Doug Leiez, Gene Murphy, Clint Phillips. Protecting New Homes From Wildfires in Western Nevada County California. California Fire Safe Consultants. Oroville, CA. 1991.
  • Collazo, Tom (SEESI). meeting with fire committee. 1992.
  • McPherson, Guy (faculty, Renewable Natural Resources, U of A). personal communication. 1992.
  • Notestine, Jim. letter to Casas Arroyo home and lot owners. unpublished letter. 1992.
  • Powell, Eric. unpublished research. 1992.
  • Pyne, Stephen J. The New American Fire. The New York Times. Oct. 28, 1991.
  • Swetnam, Tony (faculty, Dendrochronology, U of A). personal communication. 1992.
  • USDA Forest Service. Protecting Residences from Wildfires: a Guide for Homeowners. Lawmakers. Planners. Gen. Tech Rpt #PSW-50. Berkeley CA. 1981.
  • Whitehead, Loren (district ranger, Saguaro Nat’l Monument). personal communication. 1992.
Copyright © Casas Arroyo Homeowners Association. All rights reserved.