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In 2005, with wildfires burning nearby and a structure protection assessment showing a 20% survival rate if catastrophic wildfire were to enter into this community, maintenance of the Pine Strawberry Fuel Break in Tonto National Forest surrounding the communities was urgent. The federal government did not have the funds available to do the work and years of regrowth had rendered the break completely ineffective. After an initial call to action was made to the community, our goal was reached within a week. Additional funds were made available by Gila County and, in partnership with the Payson Ranger District, we were able to rebuild the fuel break and re-establish this essential zone of protection.

The fuel break, at the time, was a 380 foot wide and 711 acre area which had been cleared of the low brush that provided highly volatile fuels for a wildland fire. The purpose of the fuel break is to slow, turn and to bring to the ground a raging crown fire. A healthy ecosystem has fewer trees and ladder fuels, thus reducing the fire intensity. The ultimate purpose of an effective fuel break is to prevent a major wildland fire from burning into Pine or Strawberry, potentially destroying many homes in the process.

Fuel breaks have proven to be successful in slowing and or turning fires at community boundaries. This fuel break not only provided Pine Strawberry with the wildfire protection that it desperately needed, but this initial fund drive also was cited on a national level and called the best example of community/agency cooperation in the country. This is an example of the value of educating the public and building support through community spirit.

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