This past Friday I had the opportunity to present a case study on wildfire preparedness at the recent Backyards and Beyond Conference in Salt Lake City. Prescott, Arizona was the community in focus and it was a real privilege to be able to make the presentation with several Arizonans in the audience. Prescott epitomizes what it means to be a fire adapted community, although I prefer to use the phrase ‘fire adapting community’ instead. Prescott is an example of excellence in wildfire preparedness and collaborative planning.
Arizona is ranked 8th in the nation with regards to number of Firewise Communities/USA sites with 51 active Firewise communities. Of those 51 communities, 21 are located in the greater Prescott area. If Prescott was a state it too would be ranked 17th in the nation.
Prescott has a long storied history of wildfires. One only needs to visit to Yavapai County Courthouse to learn this real quick. The pathway leading to this beautiful building has the history of Prescott etched into concrete walkway. Every third or fourth major event listed in this walkway a significant wildfire event has been recorded.
One of the more remarkable events that happened at the turn of the last century was the Whiskey Row of 1900. Legend has it that the community salvaged the Brunswick carved bar from the burning Palace Restaurant and Saloon that was established in 1877. According to Shirley Howell, the Treasurer for the Prescott Area Wildland-Urban Interface Commission who was participating in the presentation, the city folk not only salvaged the bar, but they relocated it into the County Courthouse and continued drinking while the rest of the town, including the Palace Restaurant and Saloon burned down.
There are a couple of lessons from this story:
- The only hardened structure, the County Courthouse survived the wildfire. All the other wooden structures were destroyed.
- The community demonstrated even at this early juncture the following important characteristics: resiliency, ingenuity and prioritization.
All three characteristics have been critical in this towns evolution as one of the benchmark communities in the United States at it relates to wildfire preparedness.
Image 1: Prescott, Arizona a wildfire preparedness timeline
The tragedy that occured June 30, during Yarnell Hill Fire earlier this year where 19 members of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew perished has certainly put a huge strain on this closely knit community. If the past is a good predictor of the future, I am confident that this community has the resolve to regroup, repurpose and continue to blaze a path of excellence in wildfire preparedness into the future.
The United Phoenix Fire Fighters Association, together with the Prescott Fire Fighters Charities, have established a 501(c)3 relief fund.