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June 2, 2014

Host: Ted Simons

Wildfire Prevention Campaign

  • National and state agencies are joining forces on a campaign to prevent wildfires this summer, which is of particular concern because of a dry winter. Helen Graham, the deputy fire staff officer for the Tonto National Forest, will discuss the “One Less Spark, One Less Fire” wildfire prevention campaign.
  • Helen Graham - Deputy Fire Staff Officer, Tonto National Forest
Category: Environment   |   Keywords: environment, wildfire, prevention, campaign, summer, dry,

View Transcript

Ted Simons: State and federal agencies are joining forces on a new wildfire prevention campaign called "One Less Spark, One Less Fire." Here to tell us about the effort is Helen Graham, the Deputy Fire Staff Officer for the Tonto National Forest. It's good to have you here. Thanks for joining us. "One Less Spark, One Less Fire." Not sure about the grammar there, but I do know the intention. Talk to us about that.

Helen Graham: "One Less Spark, One Less Fire" is an effort that we have to bring attention to the other sources of human-caused fires that we see out in the forest and the public lands. A lot of our fires, specifically on the Tonto, are caused by the traveling public. Vehicles that are poorly maintained, they break down, people pull over into the grass, vehicle accidents, we had the badger fire that was on I-17 that closed things down for hours, and that was an overheated R.V.

Ted Simons: Yeah, and I have one of the campaign ads here, this is "One Less Spark, One Less Fire," and again, this one focuses on the vehicles. People don't think about that. They don't think about chains, they're pulling chains, and these sorts of things, and just -- Literally, one spark and there you go.

Helen Graham: One spark. A lot of people think roadside fires are caused by people discarding cigarettes. Those can happen, but dragging chains, poorly inflated wheels that blow out, people riding on the rim, just dragging material under the vehicle. The Tonto National Forest is bisected by a number of state highways and interstates and we see quite a few of these fires every year.

Ted Simons: And I would imagine just simply parking or pausing over dry leaves could be a problem.

Helen Graham: Yeah. Catalytic converters are very hot. It only takes temperatures of about 400 to 600 degrees to spark a wildfire. Catalytic converters are much hotter than that.

Ted Simons: So basically, what? The idea if grass or something hits the bottom of your vehicle, don't park there?

Helen Graham: Don't park there. Park in a clear area, if your vehicle is breaking down, get to a turnout, on an exit, a safe place where you can park without exposing the vehicle to grass or brush.

Ted Simons: You mentioned cigarettes. I mowers and chainsaws and other things are talked about as well. There's a 30-second spot I want to run because it's part of the campaign to get folks to pay attention to what they're doing. Again, this is a 30-second spot regarding "One Less Spark, One Less Fire." I’ll tell you what, we'll let them get that spot ready. We'll continue the discussion while they load that up. Mowers, chain saws, welding torches, those sorts of things.

Helen Graham: Any internal combustion engine, any welding device, cutting torches, any of those can drop slag and cause a wildfire.

Ted Simons: Okay and here is the spot. So we're again talking obviously this stuff handling campfires responsibly, as you mentioned, tossing cigarettes and fireworks, all those sorts -- that should be common sense, shouldn't it?

Helen Graham: It should be. We've been in fire restriction since mid-April. It should be common sense to put out fires, but some people don't understand to put a fire dead out –- a campfire -- you have to be able to stick your hand in the ashes and it should be cold to the touch. Otherwise we don't consider it dead out.

Ted Simons: When we talk about the mowers and chain saws and such, string trimmers in tall grass, is that OK?

Helen Graham: If it's not metallic it's OK. The thing you do need to worried about is the muffler, whether you have spark arrester on that muffler.

Ted Simons: And spark arresters are very important.

Helen Graham: Very important, yes.

Ted Simons: As far as the cigarettes, again and I think you may have touched on this, the idea you toss a cigarette, hours later that thing could still be a problem.

Helen Graham: Correct. Correct.

Ted Simons: People just don't seem to understand that.

Helen Graham: Yeah. I think this is part of our campaign, to make people more aware how their activity can affect our public lands, whether it's using their mower, driving up the road, that they need to be aware of how their activity can affect us.

Ted Simons: Discharged firearms. Got to be careful.

Helen Graham: Yep. Shooting, whether shooting activity because of the types of targets they're shooting, the types of rounds they're using. On the Tonto National Forest, we have quite a few fires attributed to shooting activity.

Ted Simons: Is there a special ammunition maybe to use or try to avoid?

Helen Graham: Actually we just -- When we go into our fire restrictions we go into a shooting ban. We do so because it's just the variety of activities that shooting can lead to causing a fire. We just go into a complete ban. The Prescott National Forest does so when they elevate their restrictions as well as does the Bureau of Land Management.

Ted Simons: That's folks traveling and perhaps vacationing and staycationing and the whole nine yards. What about folks who live in the high country, who live near these areas, near the forested areas?

Helen Graham: They need to be careful about their activities around their house. The best thing they could start out with is making sure they have that 30-foot and 100-foot clearance around their home, so there home’s defensible. The next thing is people mowing their lawns, using welding torches, cutting torches or welding devices, anything that can produce a spark, personal activity can start a fire that can spread to the forest.

Ted Simons: As far as fire restrictions now, for again those planning on camping, planning on going on vacation, how do you know about the restrictions? Where do you get the information?

Helen Graham: You can go to any of the websites, AZfireinfo is one, the Tonto National Forest, each of the national forests has information on their website. You can't drive up highway 87 right now without passing a large lighted sign that will tell you what the restrictions are and what is prohibited.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, if you don't, you haven't checked the internet or you figure I'm going to go right now kind of on a lark, are these electronic signs off the side of the road?

Helen Graham: They're off the side of the road. We have a partnership with ADOT. They turn on their signs as well with the same fire restriction information. The other thing is we boost our prevention staffing, so we have prevention personnel patrolling the forest early in the morning, late in the afternoon when we might find these activities, making contact and educating folks.

Ted Simons: What if you're out there and you see a fire? You see something smoking?

Helen Graham: Call 9-1-1.

Ted Simons: Literally 9-1-1.

Helen Graham: 9-1-1 will get to whichever jurisdiction it needs to get to.

Ted Simons: And you're in the Tonto National Forest. How are things up there? What's it look like?

Helen Graham: It's dry. We're in the peak of our season. This is June; we're in the 90th to 90th percentile of as bad as we could be. That's why we've elevated our restrictions and boosted our staffing. So far we've been fairly lucky. We did have a fire, two fires this weekend, one of which we do believe might have been related to some shooting activity. That's under investigation.

Ted Simons: Where was that?

Helen Graham: That was up 87 off Mesquite Wash, and then the other fire was off the road up by Four Peaks.

Ted Simons: I know the bark beetle problem up there is bad. How much of a factor is that? Is that getting any better at all?

Helen Graham: We haven't had any recent infestations, but we have the dead material that's already out there. That's why we do -- Make a lot of effort to clear that material out and create defensible space around communities. The biggest thing that we're really dealing with this year is the 12 years of drought and the lack of Winter precipitation and Spring precipitation. That puts us in a bad spot.

Ted Simons: Well, alight. Let's hope for the best. Thank you for the campaign and thank you for being here. We appreciate it.

Helen Graham: You bet.