Portal, AZ - Rodeo, NM

Serving The Communities Of Portal and Rodeo  (www.portal-rodeo.com)

Fire Wise

Portal as a Firewise Community

Community members in Portal are proud to have become certified as a nationally recognized Firewise Community (note our sign!), and to have maintained this status for a number of years.  After a founding committee developed a plan for Portal to survive wildfires that will inevitably come, residents have worked hard to reduce fuels both on private properties and around shared infrastructure (Post Office, Library and teacherage).  More details follow the section on Announcements.

Announcements!!! – educational and volunteer events (community work days)

New Google Group:  So far, 103 community members have requested inclusion in a new Google Group where we will post educational events and work opportunities, e.g., clean-up of fuels surrounding local infrastructure.  Request inclusion in this group by emailing Dinah Davidson at firewise.portalaz@gmail.com .

Portal’s second assessment class:  From 8:00-3:00 pm on April 4, at the Portal Rescue classroom, representatives of State Forestry will teach an assessments class to instruct registered attendees on how to evaluate vulnerabilities of their properties to wildfire.  Educational materials will be available at the class, and two property assessments will be conducted immediately after class.  Register for this class by contacting Dinah Davidson at firewise.portalaz@gmail.com.  We welcome enthusiastically any class graduate who would like to volunteer to conduct property assessments for neighbors in our community.  Non-attendees may request assessments by various qualified volunteers.  Contact Dinah at the address shown above.

Spring winds:  You’ve recently seen how hard the winds can blow here.  Now imagine how it would feel to have those winds driving fire toward your home!  Spring wildfire season is here, and with all the rain we’ve had in the past 12 months, there will be lots of tall, dry grass to carry fire to your mesquite and trees in April – June.  Be aware, and be prepared!

What does it mean to be Firewise?

Being Firewise is not an end state but the process of creating and maintaining an environment as safe as possible from wildfire.  Structures can be built or hardened to resist ignition by ember storms that are the advancing ‘front’ of wildfire and the primary vulnerability of homes and outbuildings.  Gutters should be cleaned of vegetative debris, and firewood stored at least 30’ from structures.  Vegetative fuels should be removed near structures and modified in surrounding zones to create conditions favoring low-intensity ground fire as well as discontinuities (fuel breaks) in canopy cover.  The latter treatments retard transport of flames into tree canopies via ladder fuels like shrubs and lower tree branches, and they reduce the threat of catastrophic crown fires.  Because lax structure hardening and vegetation management on one property pose a threat to neighboring properties, Firewise practices are most effective when adopted by entire neighborhoods, with everyone trying to be good neighbors.

Ember storms, and ‘ready, set, go’!

The majority of homes lost to wildfire succumb to showers of embers entering nooks and crannies, rather than to advancing walls of flames (though the latter can happen).  Also called firebrands, embers can penetrate attic vents, lodge in stacks of firewood, and even ignite brooms and door mats left on porches.  Some vulnerabilities to embers must be addressed in advance, e.g., by protecting attic ventes with metal screen, cleaning gutters, and keeping woodpiles distant.  Others, e.g., moving porch furniture, brooms and other flammables away from structures, are tackled at a ‘ready, set, go’ moment as fire approaches.

Protecting your home from ember-ignition:


History of the Firewise program in Portal – 2018 to present

Portal owes a huge debit of gratitude to Debb and Budd Johnson, who founded and organized this community effort after having literally had “a fire lit under them” back in June, 2017.  Flames escaping from a structure fire nearby ignited a small wildfire which burned behind the Post Office, Library, and teacherage, and onto their property.  The neighbors, young and old, worked valiantly to contain the fire until Portal Rescue Firefighters had been summoned and arrived on scene.  A change in wind direction was fortuitous for all.

Motivated by their new-found appreciation of the community’s vulnerability to wildfire, Debb brought in outside expertise from the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management to present a Sew What? forum, and they organized the first assessment class presented by AZDFFM instructors.  That class trained a number of local property owners to recognize vulnerabilities in structures and surrounding vegetation.  Several of these trainees (Debb and Budd, then-Portal Rescue-President Bill Wilbur, Lee Dyal, Dinah Davidson and Barb Miller), generously made themselves available to visit and assess properties of their neighbors, leaving behind reports to encourage strictly voluntary improvements.  Subsequently, homeowners have sought to find a sustainable balance between safety and a desire to maintain environmental harmony in a wildland setting.

Debb also put together a Firewise Committee to set boundaries for the target area, develop realistic goals and schedule educational and work events.  On June 9, 2018, she submitted the Firewise Application (written by Dinah Davidson) and, through November of 2022, handled all the required annual paperwork documenting assessments and “community investment” in Firewise preparation. With Jackie Lewis, Debb developed a phone tree to notify residents during emergencies and to stage a practice evacuation drill.  Debb also successfully applied for Firewise recertification, secured small grants to fund a trailer for hauling brush removed on National Community Wildfire Protection Day, and distributed Firewise literature at local events (Soup’s On, the FOCCC Spring Garden Party, Heritage Days, and Oktoberfest).  Lee Dyal mapped local properties and is currently modernizing that data base so that EMS and Firewise personnel can locate residences accurately.

Clearly, the Firewise program would not exist in Portal without the extraordinary efforts of Debb and Budd Johnson, and we thank them profusely!

What are the current geographic boundaries of Firewise here in Portal?

The Portal Firewise Community presently encompasses Cave Creek Canyon, together with private land holdings up through the American Museum’s Southwest Research Station (SWRS).  It also includes neighborhoods immediately surrounding Portal village, down in elevation through H Bar M Rd, and along Foothills Rd. through Sky Village.  These boundaries don’t preclude other localities joining at some later date, if at least 70% of residents commit to organizing their own Firewise neighborhoods.  In this way, the Portal Firewise Community could eventually include properties within adjacent valley regions (to Stateline Rd.), and extending to Paradise, Whitetail Canyon and Sulphur Canyon.

We need your participation to maintain our Firewise status 

Evidence of the Community’s commitment to Firewise practices is a prerequisite for annual recertification.  That evidence is tallied yearly in the form of monetary investment in structure hardening and fuels reduction, as well as credit for the property owners’ own work hours.  If you are a part of this Community (see above), please keep track of hours worked and expenses, and then report them to Dinah Davidson when she circulates a request early next fall.  Data starting in November, and concluding at the time of the request, must be summarized and reported by the end of October.

Reports from Portal Firewise Community members have always exceeded the minimum investment for annual recertification.  Let’s keep this success going!

Invitation to make and keep Portal Firewise!

The US Forest Service spent a great deal of money (and assumed more than enough risk!) protecting our beloved Cave Creek Canyon and our local economy from the Horseshoe II fire.  It will not have the resources to provide the same degree of protection in the future.  The Community must step up and do its part, and the Community is only as strong as its weakest link.  Don’t let that be you!  The Firewise Committee invites your participation in our local Firewise program, and we can provide several enticements.

‍    •    Assessments are free, so please take advantage of one.

‍    •    We hope to organize several alternative ways of disposing of downed brush (but sorry, no spiny mesquite)

‍    •    Your insurer may offer you reduced rates after documenting your work.

‍    •    If we work together toward Community Firewise status, the US Forest Service, BLM, and AZ State lands will pitch in and do their part on government lands adjacent to our private properties. 

The Portal Firewise Committee is working to attain recognition as a firewise community and we need participation from all of you.We are beginning our effort in the canyon from the forest service boundary to Foothills road (the most vulnerable area) and will then spread our efforts to the entire Portal Rescue District. Please join us!

Together with successive drought years, record high temperatures, and the Horseshoe I and II fires, a recent fire in ‘downtown’ Portal solidified the view that tragic fires like those afflicting California could happen right here. A sudden and lucky downturn in the winds was all that saved our homes and adjacent wildlands from disaster during the June, 2017 fire, but there’s no guarantee that we’ll be as fortunate next time. On this very warm and dry year, windy and dry spring weather lies just around the corner. It’s well past time to act to insure the safety and survival of our community in the face of future fires that will surely come in just a matter of time.

State and federal land agencies have long prioritized Portal as a community that would benefit from working toward Firewise status, and several local citizens have formed a committee to spearhead this effort. To qualify as a Firewise community, we need to show that homeowners are working toward compliance with a set of guidelines developed by fire researchers to promote survival of homes in the Wildland-Urban-Interface, or WUI (pronounced ‘woo-ee’). A Sew What? forum last November brought in Mayra Moreno (Southeast District Coordinator for the AZ Department of Forestry and Fire Management) to stimulate interest and participation in Firewise, and Mayra returned with Lee Ann Beery (Northern District Coordinator, AZ-DFFM) to offer a two-day class in home and property assessment. A number of certified local Firewise assessors are now available to visit and make recommendations for safeguarding houses and properties. We hope that assessments will increase awareness of actions - many of them minor – with the potential to increase your security.

A principal lesson from the Firewise class was that the majority of homes lost to wildfire succumb to showers of embers entering nooks and crannies, rather than to advancing walls of flames (though the latter can happen). Embers, also called firebrands, can penetrate attic vents, lodge in stacks of firewood, and even ignite brooms and door mats left on porches. Some vulnerabilities must be addressed in advance (e.g., by protecting attic vents with metal screen, cleaning gutters, and keeping woodpiles at a distance), while others are tackled at a ‘ready, set, go’ moment as fire approaches (e.g, moving brooms, porch furniture and other flammables away from the house). Firewise recommendations for reducing ladder fuels and vegetation immediately next to the home need not mean sacrificing much loved trees and shrubs composing the environments in which we have chosen to live.

Fires consuming unprotected properties produce embers that colonize whole neighborhoods, and the community is only as strong as its weakest link. The

Firewise Committee therefore invites your participation in Portal’s Firewise program, and we can provide several enticements.

•-First, assessments are free, so please take advantage of one.

•-The Committee is also organizing several alternative ways of disposing of downed vegetation and ladder fuels.

•-If we work toward Firewise status, the US Forest Service, BLM, and AZ State Lands will pitch in and do their part on government land surrounding our private properties. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a fire break surrounding the entire community?

•-The USFS spent a great deal of money protecting our beloved Cave Creek Canyon and local economy from the Horseshoe II fire. However, the forest service remains concerned about their ability to defend private property in the Wildland-Urban-Interface, (WUI) from future wildfires without our help in reducing fuels and making our properties firewise.

•-Efforts to become Firewise make us eligible to apply for 90:10 grants to pay for much of fuels reduction. That is, should you pay up front for $100 of fuels reduction, such a grant would refund $90 to you afterwards.

•-Becoming Firewise may lower your home insurance costs with some companies.

•-Finally, and especially if you look around and feel overwhelmed by the imagined effort needed to reduce fuels on your property, we can put you in touch with the leader of a prison crew specializing in exactly this task, and doing so at a reasonable rate.

So look around you, visualize the lurking dangers, and please commit to joining us in striving for safety from wildfires. Whether you live full time in Portal or are part-time residents, you bought property here because of the beauty and serenity of our natural environment. Help us to safeguard this very special place.