One of the most common concerns residents have is the amount of dead and overgrown vegetation in the common areas that weave throughout Las Sendas. Until 2016, these natural areas were designated as “natural, unmaintained” and largely untouched, leaving a lot of work to do. A few years ago, the Association began contracting with landscape companies to remove the excess vegetation to mitigate the risk of a fire spreading throughout the community. The Board of Directors approved roughly $233K of fire fuel mitigation efforts in 24 enclaves between 2016 and 2018. It was the first time any significant removal of vegetation in these common areas was performed since the community was developed roughly 20 years ago.
In 2019, the Landscape Committee sought to continue the project in the remaining areas that had not been addressed. The Committee consulted with the Mesa Fire Department and the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management (DFFM) to better understand the recommended scope of work. During these conversations, the Committee learned that the DFFM has a partnership with the Arizona Department of Corrections, and trained fire crews were available to perform fuel reduction work. In addition to performing this work in Arizona forests, these crews regularly perform work in homeowners associations around the valley similar to Las Sendas. The Landscape Committee developed a plan for fire mitigation to be performed in phases over five years, assuming the Association could utilize the DFFM fire crews.
As with most things, COVID-19 affected the 2020 and 2021 fire mitigation projects. The highly trained crews offered by the DFFM were removed from all projects last March and remain unavailable for the foreseeable future. As a result, we turned to our new landscape provider, ProQual, to perform the work in the same seven enclaves slated for 2020. Unfortunately, this change resulted in a significant reduction in the scope and an increase in project costs. These changes will require the Landscape Committee to review and revise the fire mitigation plan before we schedule work in 2022.
One of the six priorities that the Board set for 2021 was fire mitigation in the common areas and revising the community’s fire mitigation plan. To support this decision, the Board increased the 2021 budget for fire risk mitigation to $112,000, up from $38,000 in 2020. The following enclaves are scheduled for 2021:
- Founders Ranch
- Mountain Village
- Pinnacle Hills
- Sonoran Hills
Other enclaves will be scheduled for fire mitigation in 2022 and beyond. The Board continues to prioritize fire mitigation and is setting aside funds in the operating budget to ensure work continues.
As a general rule, the scope of work includes the following (This isn’t a science. It’s more of an art by trained professionals):
- Clearing away vegetation within 5 feet of walls, with the exception of healthy trees and cacti with diameters over 4 inches.
- Trimming trees so that branches do not hang lower than about five feet from the ground.
- Removing any “dead and down” material, meaning large broken branches, dead trees and shrubs, and fallen trees or branches.
- Break up large, dense areas of shrubs by removing some shrubs.
- Removal of invasive plant species.
While the Association will follow the Guidelines provided by the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management to reduce the amount of fuel in the common areas, the work will not guarantee fires will not start or spread within the community. Given our proximity to the Tonto National forest and an increased presence of invasive grasses in the desert, homeowners should also take action to protect their private property and ensure they have insurance coverage.