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Fires in Carefree highlight fire risk and importance of fire prevention

7/8/2015

Elizabeth Medora
Staff

CAREFREE – For the second time in seven days, a small brush fire burned near the Ridgeview Estates in Carefree.

Colin Williams, Rural Metro Public Information Officer for the area, noted that the Carefree Fire Department Chief confirmed the fire was lightning caused. In the early hours of the morning on June 30, a phone box on a telephone pole caught fire, after being struck by lightning. The fire melted the interior of the phone box and traveled along the ground. The fire burned about 30 feet along Cave Creek Road and approaching the Ridgeview Estates homes. No homes were damaged in the fire; Rural Metro/Carefree Fire Department crews were able to extinguish the fire before it spread further.

The June 30 phone box fire caused phone outages to local residents. CenturyLink crews were on-scene that day, working to repair the damage. CenturyLink representatives could not be reached by press time to report how long phone service was affected.

Both recent brush fires spread easily due to the prolific non-native vegetation in the area, particularly the buffelgrass covering the ground. Buffelgrass, also known as African foxtail grass, is a non-native grass that was originally planted in Arizona to prevent soil erosion. This grass is fast-spreading and fast-burning. The United States Department of Agriculture calls buffelgrass “highly invasive within native plant communities” and calls the invasion of buffelgrass in the Southwest a “major concern.”

“Wherever buffelgrass becomes established, a primary focus should be on reduction of fuel loads to decrease the likelihood of wildfire,” the Department of Agriculture wrote in the 2014 Field Guide for Managing Buffelgrass in the Southwest.

Williams noted that homeowners should eliminate buffelgrass on and around their property as much as possible to reduce fire risk.

“Pull it out and dig out the roots,” Williams said.

Williams noted multiple sections of non-native vegetation in the Cave Creek/Carefree area. This vegetation greatly contributes to the area’s fire risk. Williams strongly recommends clearing non-native vegetation, dead brush piles, and debris from around homes.

Another area fire hazard is non-native salt cedar, also called tamarisk. Like buffelgrass, salt cedar was originally planted to help avoid soil erosion and is invasive to native vegetation. Extremely flammable, salt cedar has contributed to the spread of many fires, including the recent Kearny Fire. Fire can quickly spread through the crowns of the plants and through the fallen salt cedar leaves, which resemble pine needles.
 
In a University of California Riverside Center for Invasive Species Research article, researchers Jeffrey Lovich and Mark Hoddle noted that salt cedar contributes “to a loss of natural biodiversity” and can be harmful to native species, as well as raising fire risk.

“Saltcedar increases fire frequency within the riparian habitats it dominates because of its high levels of dead leaves and branches that provide fuel for fires,” the Center for Invasive Species Research article stated.

Clearing out invasive, flammable vegetation like buffelgrass and salt cedar helps lowers fire risk and promote the growth of native Arizona plants. Fire safety practices can make the difference between a small brush fire and a major disaster. 

“If a fire isn’t lightning caused, it’s human-caused,” Williams said.  

Good fire safety practices include always using an ashtray to extinguish cigarette butts, making sure campfires are fully extinguished before leaving the area, keeping flammable objects away from homes, keeping firewood stacks away from homes, and keeping tree branches trimmed.

See more fire safety information and tips from the National Fire Protection Association at www.nfpa.org/safety-information/for-consumers.