Technology helps track fire starts, mitigation efforts
The significance of the dry, hot summer and missing monsoon season created a hotbed of problems in the north part of the city, creating the most overgrown brush and vegetation fuels season this area has seen in years. Scottsdale more than any other valley city has more critical wildfire risk, due to the urban interface with much of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and other vegetation rich, open space areas.
View a 10 year timeline of brush fires in Scottsdale.
During what is considered the typical brush season of May through August, Scottsdale had 50 brush/vegetation fires, up 30 percent from the same time in 2019. Year to date*, brush fires in or near Scottsdale went from 72 in 2019 to 80 in 2020. *(Sept. 23)
“There is no question, this year has been a busy one for brush fires,” says Eric Valliere, Assistant Chief for Scottsdale Fire Department. “Last years’ experience prepped us for the battle, and we knew we had to attack this from every angle possible in 2020.”
Early reports of how many brush fires were starting showed sparks from chains, cutting, welding, and grinding metals as the culprit. Residential construction sites have these types of activities regularly and are often adjacent to the Preserve. These quickly became the focus for targeted efforts.
One such effort included deploying Deputy Fire Marshals on quick construction site fire assessments. The inspector and the General Contractor or job supervisor walk the site while using a wildfire safety checklist. If there are any deficiencies, remedies can be accomplished immediately in real time. Occupant contact information is gathered and a pass or fail results automatically when the inspection is over. Year to date, SFD has conducted 241 of these inspections.
The information is entered into a new geo mapping system that allows the fire department to track fires that may be related to that construction site. The function snaps the date, time, location -- even without an address – to both the inspections and fire starts.
“Thanks to our partners in the City IT department, the technology allowed us to visually see where vegetation fires were sparking. It was easy to correlate the increase in construction activity in the north part of the city to the increase in brush fires.”
The wildfire season in 2020 was extended because of the lack of moisture and humidity usually brought in by the annual monsoons. Scottsdale will continue to use all avenues to prevention and quick loss-stop through increased staffing of brush resources, prevention activities, partnership opportunities with the Auto-aid partners, and continued relationships with State and Federal agencies to ensure operational resources are readily available, if an incident should occur.
What can residents do?
Residents can help protect their property from wildfires by becoming Firewise.