Wildfire size and intensity determines DEMA’s involvement

Wildfire size and intensity determines DEMA’s involvement

Image of the Have Their Backs campaign billboard

Every year, wildfires burn across the Arizona landscape. During 2016, 2,285 wildfires burned 308,245 acres. The largest fire in Arizona history is the Wallow Fire, which consumed 538,049 acres in 2011 (15,407 acres in New Mexico).

The Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) Response Branch is usually aware of all fires happening in Arizona based on information provided by the Southwest Coordination Center, Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, County Search and Rescue Coordinators and County Emergency Managers. 

Most fires are handled by the local jurisdictions or land managers (National Parks or Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management). The larger fires are handled by Type 1 Incident Management Teams and usually have limited State involvement, unless the fires threaten people, structures or State lands. 

According to DEMA’s Response Branch Manager, “when fires do threaten people or structures, DEMA will act to support the County Emergency Manager. The support comes in the form of Mass Care assets, resources and people to support Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Operations.”

DEMA will deploy a State Liaison to be the eyes and ears to the county emergency operations center to work directly with County Emergency Managers and filteri information about the fire and its impacts back to DEMA.  The Response Branch will contact the necessary people to let them know the situation and determine what assets they might have to support the Counties, if needed.

Logistics becomes involved when a county depletes its resources. Counties can request resources through Arizona Mutual Aid Compact, which goes through DEMA’s Logistics Branch (resource ordering). If there is a State declaration, DEMA can reach out to other State’s with resource requests. Logistics can allocate and purchase equipment or items needed to support the impacted jurisdictions, from sending portable cell on wheels stations to large trucks carrying water.

DEMA’s Recovery Branch gets involved after a fire (when needed) in order to coordinate state and/or federal actions with local jurisdictions to assist the impacted communities in recovering from and mitigating the effects of disasters.

“Our first objective during Recovery is to work with the impacted jurisdictions and conduct the preliminary damage assessments (PDA) for both homes and infrastructure. This informs us of the scope and magnitude of the incident, and most importantly, is the primary driver for State and/Federal assistance,” explained Rebecca Trayler, DEMA’s Recovery Branch Manager. “Following the PDA, DEMA's Human Services Group will typically set up an Individual Assistance Service Center (IASC), in partnership with the local County. The purpose of the IASC is to provide a one-stop center for residents who have been affected by a wildland fire to come and seek advice, assistance and resources from local, State and voluntary organizations.”

DEMA’s Public Information Office posts fire updates from its partners and offers preparedness and prevention tips on the Arizona Emergency Information Network website, AzEIN.

In the spirit of encouraging preparedness and mitigation, DEMA created the Have Their Backs. Live Firewise® campaign. Running May - June, Have Their Backs asks Arizonans to live Firewise® by making simple home improvements to protect their homes, and the wildland firefighters.

The campaign will run statewide in communities that are prone to, or have experienced large wildfires before, such as Flagstaff, Globe, Heber-Overgaard and Safford.

Each year, in preparation of wildfire season (which typically picks up in May), DEMA’s federal and state fire partners promote fire safety with ‘Southwest Wildfire Awareness Week.’ This year it is March 26 – April 1 and the theme is “Wildfire doesn’t have to be a disaster. Little things you do now will make a big difference.” The goal is to increase awareness and promote actions that reduce the risk of wildfire to homes and communities.

Homeowners can prepare and protect their homes and properties from a devastating wildfire. Seven small steps the campaign suggests to homeowners  to reduce their wildfire risk are:

  •          Clear off pine needles, dead leaves and anything that can burn from your rooflines, gutters, decks, porches, patios and along fence lines.
  •          Store away furniture cushions, rattan mats, potted plants and other decorations from decks, porches and patios.
  •          Walk around your house to see what openings you can screen or temporarily seal up.
  •          Rake out any landscaping mulch to at least five feet away.
  •          Trim back any shrubs or tree branches that come closer than five feet to the house and attachments, and any overhanging branches.
  •          Walk around your house and remove anything within 30 feet that could burn, such as woodpiles, lumber, vehicles and boats – anything that can act as a large fuel source.
  •          If ordered to evacuate, make sure to close tightly all windows & doors , and seal up any pet doors.

For more information on wildfire preparedness, visit Ein.az.gov.