Forest Closures Expanded


Gila County's outdoor recreationalists can expect more closures in the Tonto National Forest next week but probably not any large areas, or areas that would affect travel to lakes or major campgrounds, Jim Payne, a public information officer for the U.S. Forest Service, said Thursday.

The additional areas are primarily adjacent to areas that are already closed near the Control Road, Payne said.

The factors that weigh into the Forest Service's closure decisions, Payne said, are access to an area, the condition of vegetation, potentially high-risk terrain, and sometimes housing.

With the 10th anniversary of the Dude Fire fast approaching, and with no rain in sight, forest officials are worried.

The Tonto National Forest is far drier now than it was June 25, 1990, when lightning sparked the Dude a blaze that incinerated 24,000 acres of forest, destroyed 63 homes, killed six firefighters and went down in the history books as one of the Rim country's most devastating wildfires.

To help protect the forest, and the people who live in and around it, forest officials have closed three sections of the Tonto and banned campfires in some developed campgrounds.

A 75,000-acre strip north of Payson along Highway 87 intersecting with the Coconino and Apache-Sitgreaves forests, and a 65,000-acre area of the Pinal Mountains south of Globe were closed Wednesday.

The Sierra Ancha Wilderness Area, near the recent Coon Creek Fire, also remains closed. In all, 140,000 acres in the Tonto are closed to the public. Violators can be fined up to $10,000, sentenced to six months in jail or both.

North of Gila County, high winds fanning the flames of a wildfire in the Kaibab National Forest have caused it to char another 600 acres, authorities said Wednesday.

The Pumpkin fire northeast of Williams reached 9,500 acres by midday Wednesday, said Irma Matson, a fire information officer for the Kaibab forest. Wind gusts of 20 to 30 mph were expected, she said.

Firefighters had contained about 40 percent of the blaze by Wednesday morning, but no projected date for full containment had been set, the Arizona Republic reported Wednesday.

A lightning strike May 24 started the fire in an area called Pumpkin Center.

For information and updates about local forest restrictions, call the Payson Ranger District at 474-7900.

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