Smoke from the Woodbury Fire rises in the Superstition Wilderness east of Fountain Hills. Photo courtesy of Rio Verde Fire District

The active fire season unfolding this summer has highlighted a question concerning maintenance of the washes in Fountain Hills.

The town owns about 400 acres of wash property in the community and is responsible for the maintenance of that land. Fire danger and flood potential are the key factors prioritizing the work, according to Raymond Rees, TOFH facilities and environmental supervisor.

“[The washes] were inspected and noted by [the] fire marshal years ago,” Rees said. “They looked at density and proximity to homes and structures.

“The wash maintenance program in no way should be in place of making sure someone’s property is ‘firewise.’ A defensible space around a home should always be maintained by property owners.

“Residents can contact the…fire department for assistance in inspecting their homes and property for what should be defensible space.”

The wash work scheduled for the 2019/2020 fiscal year includes Escalante, Caliente, Oxford and Legend washes. These are all in the northeast portion of the town.

Rees said the work is done by a contractor selected through an RFP process. They were awarded a one-year contract with four optional annual renewals.

The work is scheduled to begin in November with the Arizona Department of Water Resources inspection of the detention dams in Fountain Hills. The work of cleaning up the washes begins after that early in the calendar year.

If the crews work through the locations scheduled for the year they may begin work on the washes scheduled for the following year, according to Rees.

“There are a few factors for doing it in the fall,” Rees said. “The first being the heat and then, of course, snakes.

“One of the big factors is crews use chainsaws and wood chippers. That activity can cause sparks, which in itself can cause a fire.

“The more we can keep people out of the washes during the dry season the better.”

A number of washes owned by the town are in lower density neighborhoods and no work is done in them to maintain the natural environment.