Two state lawmakers used a Wednesday night blaze in a Gilbert county island as a springboard to ask the governor to declare a state of emergency for all unincorporated areas with no fire services.
Reps. Bob Robson and John McComish, both RChandler, sent a letter to Gov. Janet Napolitano Thursday urging the state of emergency for Maricopa County islands.
Napolitano rejected the request Thursday in a letter to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
“They want fire service. They live in the county. So, it makes sense the health and safety issues would fall to the county,” said the governor’s spokeswoman, Jeanine L’Ecuyer. “Declaring a state of emergency when this is an issue going on in excess of a year begs the question: Why would the declaration of emergency not come a long time ago?”
Many county islands are in cities, such as Mesa and Chandler, that are willing to fight fires for their unincorporated neighbors. But, Gilbert and Tempe prohibit their firefighters from responding to county island fires.
The Wednesday night fire spread from a double-wide mobile home at 12849 S. Higley Road to other structures and sent shrapnel flying when gas tanks exploded, said Alison Cooper, spokeswoman for the Rural/Metro Fire Department, which formerly served the area.
A resident called 911 about the fire at 10:32 p.m. but didn’t know the address, said Gilbert Fire Department spokesman Capt. Rob Duggan.
Gilbert firefighters went to the area but determined the fire was on a county island and Rural/Metro also was notified. Gilbert firefighters arrived first and determined that no lives were at risk and waited for Rural/Metro to take the call, Duggan said.
Rural/Metro arrived at 10:50 p.m., and the fire was under control in about an hour. No one was hurt, but the mobile home, two trailers and some sheds were destroyed.
“I find it unfathomable that firefighters are forced to stand there and watch,” Robson said.
Gilbert Town Manager George Pettit said the state of emergency call was a political maneuver.
“We didn’t sit there and watch,” he said. “We made sure all the people were out, so there was no threat to life.”
Robson said he began drafting the letter to the governor before the fire. He’s concerned a bill going through the Legislature, which forces towns and cities to provide fire service to county islands, won’t take effect until 90 days after the session ends. And, it could take six more months for fire services to start..