Fire Wise


Hello neighbors and friends:

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.

Hoping you will join us,
The Portal Firewise Committee

To arrange your free firewise assessment of your property, Contact Debb Johnson or Lee Dyal

Please watch these Youtube videos to understand our efforts.

Howard Topoff 2011