News Alert!!: Mohave Valley, AZ: Questions regarding the “Willow Fire”.

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News Alert!!: Mohave Valley, AZ: Questions regarding the “Willow Fire”.

Residents are asking questions and wanting action done all related to the “Willow Fire” which started on Saturday, August 8th, 2015 in Mohave Valley, Arizona changing the lives of residents who lost their home, their animals, and the belongings that were from the family, their business, and to help people in their community.

ZachNews Photojournalist Zachary A. Lopez has been on the front lines of the “Willow Fire” and has been hearing their questions and what they want to see be done so there wouldn’t be another large brush fire like the “Willow Fire” ever again.

** Questions: **

**** The following are a list of questions ZachNews that residents who want Fire Department Officials, Law Enforcement Officials, Emergency Management Officials, and Officials with Mohave County and the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe to answer related to the “Willow Fire” in Mohave Valley, Arizona. All of the questions listed have been sent out by email to everybody mention above. ****

1: Many residents ZachNews spoke with are upset that the “Willow Fire” was not put out before it got out of control.

According to several Mohave County Sheriff’s Deputies and Fort Mojave Tribal Police Officers on Saturday, August 8th, 2015, fire officials “letting the fire burn” because there wasn’t enough resources to fight the fire. 

– Was the “Willow Fire” ordered to “Let it burn”? 

– If so, what is being done to address this matter?

– If not, why would Mohave County Sheriff’s Deputies and Fort Mojave Tribal Police Officers tell residents as well as local media on the day the fire got out of control, that the fire was to be let burn? 

2: ZachNews has been hearing from residents that due to the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation land, fire crews were not allowed to battle the “Willow Fire” because the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe said fire crews can’t go on their land. 

– Is what residents are saying about the not allowing of fire crews onto Fort Mojave Indian Reservation land to battle the “Willow Fire” true? 

– If so, who were the people who told fire crews to not go onto their land? 

– If not, has there been any issues related to access to Fort Mojave Indian Reservation land when fires broke out in the area? 

– What is being done to address future issues of access to Fort Mojave Indian Reservation land when fires ever break out and is the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe helping in the prevention of fires in the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation land?

– Has the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe been helping in the efforts of assisting and working with local and county officials regarding the “Willow Fire” in fire assistants and providing services to help all people? 

3: In the first 2 days of the “Willow Fire”, residents as well as some in the media, including ZachNews, were unable to get important information regarding the “Willow Fire” to the people well one local news outlet reported incorrect information on the number of structures destroyed and where the evacuation center was set up.

We in the media need that important information, even if it’s small, so that the people affected by any disaster know what to do and where to go. If we in the media aren’t given that important information or residents are not told anything, then how is the right information going to be reported or told right to the people.

This was a big topic of concern and complaint by residents as well as by media from outside the area.  

– What is being done to address this matter of providing important information to both the people effected by a disaster and to the media so that the right and correct information is get out there quickly and right?

– Is there any bias to media in providing information to the media when disaster hits the community?

4: Residents are wondering what will happen after the “Willow Fire” slowly dies out.

– What is being taken out of all that has happened so that things can be improve in the future and what is being done or going to be done, related to funding, so that there is enough resources and services to prevent future fires, battle future fires, and help people affected by future fires?

5: A Mohave County News Release dated Friday, August 14th, 2015 states, “Mohave County and the Mohave Valley Fire Department Officials have expressed their sincere appreciation for the generous efforts of the many individuals, businesses, and organizations in donating goods and funding for the benefit of the families displaced from the 9 primary residences destroyed in the fire. Currently, the amount of donated goods far exceeds the identified needs of those families, and it is requested that no further donations be accumulated or acquired. If donations have already been accumulated by individuals or organizations for the Willow Fire event, the organizations listed below will accept those donations and manage distribution to the families impacted by the fire.” 

– Do Mohave County and your department believe that residents have what they need to rebuild and restore their lives? 

– Have your department spoken to all of the residents and have they told you that they don’t need anything else? 

– If people want to donate, should people still donate to local charity organizations and churches in case the residents of the “Willow Fire” can go there to get help or if other people in your community needs help in other disasters that affect this community? 

** Answers: **

**** The following are a list of questions ZachNews that residents who want Fire Department Officials, Law Enforcement Officials, Emergency Management Officials, and Officials with Mohave County and the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe to answer related to the “Willow Fire” in Mohave Valley, Arizona. All of the questions listed have been sent out by email to everybody mention above. ****

– Response by email from Byron Steward of the Emergency Management Coordinator for Mohave County, Arizona which states the following:

“Rather than try to answer each individual question, I will give you a summary of actions that have been taken or are in progress.

The Red Cross, county agencies, and local community organizations staffed an assistance center at the Mohave Valley Elementary School last Wednesday for residents to attend and indicate their immediate and long term needs. In addition, the Red Cross conducted damage assessments door to door in the community and compiled a list of primary residences that were lost. The Red Cross has assigned case workers to individual families to continue to provide assistance. From these activities it was apparent that all short term needs are being met; local organizations that have been receiving donations right now due to generosity of many county residents have large amounts of goods that are not needed by those impacted by the fire and are causing a storage problem. This is why we are requesting no more donations at this time.

For long term needs, the Mohave Valley Chamber of Commerce has stepped forward to work with the Salvation Army, the Harvest Bible Church, the VFW, and many others to conduct a program to identify long term needs and conduct fundraisers for those needs. Most of the long term needs will relate to housing since no federal assistance to individual homeowners is available. Mohave County will be working closely with this long term recovery group and passing along lessons from other such groups who have operated in disasters such as the Yarnell Hill Fire.

Your questions regarding the “let it burn” rumor should be addressed to the Mohave Valley Fire Department and the BLM. I was not directly involved in the firefighting operations so cannot speak to that. It should be noted, however, that a wind driven fire that is causing spot fires up to a mile in advance of the flame front and approaching a community is extremely difficult if not impossible to control. First priority on every fire is life safety of the residents and the firefighters. Sometimes structures cannot be protected without putting firefighters at extreme risk. It is obvious from driving through the Topock Lake Rancheros subdivision that it is a miracle that many more residences did not burn and that is entirely due to the tremendous and courageous efforts of the firefighters. MVFD did a superb job both in initial fire suppression response in calling in structural protection crews from many other fire departments across the county and from San Bernardino as rapidly as possible and in requesting air attack resources ASAP from the state. Likewise, the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office and their Search and Rescue volunteers did an excellent job in rapidly mobilizing from around the county and conducting door to door evacuation notices, as well as performing traffic control and providing security for the evacuated areas.

With regard to access to Tribal Land, I will refer you to the Mohave Valley Fire Department and the Ft. Mojave Tribe. The MVFD is the designated fire agency for the Tribe, and they work closely together. I do know that as soon as it became apparent that an evacuation was being considered that County Emergency Management called the Tribal Emergency Manager and asked if the Tribal event center was available as either a evacuation shelter or as a staging area for an Incident Management Team. He said yes immediately and cut short a visit in Phoenix to immediately drive back while making arrangements to open the center. Throughout the event, the Tribe partnered with all agencies and provided such assistance as they could.

With regard to inaccurate information in the few hours after the fire started,  I apologize if that happened. As soon as the evacuation occurred we issued evacuation warning information over the Emergency Alert System to commercial radio stations and followed up with releases to all media contacts that we had on our list. The evacuation happened so quickly that we did not have the location of the shelter pinned down (we would normally use the high school but it was potentially in the fire path) in time for first responders to provide that info directly to the evacuees leaving their homes. We are revising our procedures to correct this for future events. As for the number of destroyed structures, for a couple of days we only had an estimate and did not want to release inaccurate info so we were waiting on confirmation.

One of the first things we did was open up a Joint Information Center at the main Mohave Valley FD fire station to handle media and public enquiries and send out press releases. Personnel from County EM and Flood Control, MVFD, and the BLM staffed this center until the Incident Management Team came in on Monday and were able to take over the PIO function. Besides all the emergency functions that I was required to undertake, I personally received dozens of phone calls, voicemails, and emails from the media in the first days and tried to answer as many as I could or pass them on to someone else who could. Unfortunately, we could not get back to everyone in a timely fashion because we were simply overwhelmed with enquiries from local, state, and national media. The media is our biggest friend in a disaster because you help get accurate info to the public and dispel rumors. So I apologize if we did not get back to you; it was not a media bias issue.

Finally, we will be conducting an after action review with all involved agencies to determine where we can improve response plans, media and public information dissemination, mass care and recovery activities, etc. We do this after every event of this nature. It is possible we can come up with mitigation actions to reduce the risk from future fires. One thing that immediately jumps out about this fire, and we saw the same thing on the Wallow and Yarnell Hill Fires and others in the state, is that those private residences that had defensible space around their homes are likely to survive while the opposite is true of those who haven’t created that space. In conjunction with MVFD and the BLM, we hope to increase educational efforts to homeowners on how to create and maintain such space.

Thank you for your questions, and I want to assure you there are numerous agencies working together on this to take care on the unmet needs of those impacted and identify and implement measures to prepare for and mitigate future fires.”

** ZachNews thanks all of the people who responded to the questions that residents who were affected by the “Willow Fire” wanted answers to. **

**** As more responses come in, ZachNews will post them here. ****

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