Defensible space is difference as TFD stops fire spread

Cleared area helped keep fire from spreading to nearby apartments. (Source: Tucson News Now)
Cleared area helped keep fire from spreading to nearby apartments. (Source: Tucson News Now)
Updated: May. 29, 2018 at 9:42 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Firefighters are putting out the warning after an apartment nearly caught fire and are praising the people who live there.

Around 12 a.m. on Tuesday morning, May 29, Tucson Fire Department dispatch received multiple calls of smoke and flames coming from apartments at 304 West Ventura Street, near Oracle Road and Gr ant Road.

The first responders believed the apartments were on fire. But after getting a closer look, they realized a row of brush and scrap wood was on fire along a fence that bordered the apartments. They evacuated the building and were able to control the fire in about 10 minutes.

"This was a close call," said Tucson Fire Department Captain Andy Skaggs.

It was close enough that those first responders were on high alert. Firefighters had to enter the storage yard of the adjacent business to access what was burning. The flames were extinguished before any part of the apartment building was damaged.

At first glance, Kevin Myers, a resident in the apartments, did whatever he could to control it.

"When the fire started, I opened up the door and saw flames licking up at the top, burning the bushes. I freaked out and started grabbing everything out of the fridge," Myers said. "I got burned on the door. The knob. The door itself was hot. The only thing I could think was get the kids and the dogs out and I'm going to try to put this fire out."

He said he called 911 as his wife rushed out with their 11-year-old son and dog.

But what may have saved them all is what Myers said he did days and weeks ago. He told Tucson News Now and Captain Skaggs that he's been taking ownership of the back walkway during his nine months that he's been living there, near where the fire started.

"I just decided to clean up. Because I take pride in where I live. It's not much, but it's home for right now," he said.

The space was reportedly once filled with garbage, junk, and other flammable debris.

"He took it upon himself to just kind of start cleaning up the area. That's what it takes - somebody just taking that initiative. Your house, your neighbors house, take a walk around. Clean it up," Capt. Skaggs said.

That initiative to clear defensible space around his home, Skaggs said, likely saved lives and property.

Clearing defensible space is something that is encouraged regularly in rural areas that are prone to fast-moving wildfires. Southern Arizona knows those situations well.

"Here in the city, though, the defensible space is equally as important and critical. Because if you have the debris and the trash up against your house that is a fuel bed waiting to happen," Capt. Skaggs said.

There were no injuries in this fire, according to the Tucson Fire Department, and nobody was displaced.

Much of that happy ending is due to a little time and effort from Myers. He has no plans to stop.

"Now, the people that saw me doing it that continued to throw trash out there, even though I was cleaning, maybe now they'll think, 'that effort that he put in could've saved things from potentially getting worse,'" he told Tucson News Now. "Now I'm going to continue to keep doing it more because it actually worked."

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