Despite Rain, Areas Of Tonto Forest Stay Closed


Rain has fallen in the Rim country and more is predicted, but don't expect forest and campground closures to be lifted any time soon.

According to Payson Ranger District Assistant Fire Management Officer Dan Eckstein, the moisture northern Gila County received last week wasn't sufficient or consistent enough to lift the ban. The forest and campground closures and an open fire ban were enacted in late May due to extreme fire danger brought on by the spring and winter drought.

The recent rains, Eckstein said, "have been spotty."

Some areas, like Pine, received considerable moisture but other locations around the Rim were not so fortunate.

One area that didn't receive much rainfall last week is near Washington Park. "When you drive the Control Road out there, it's still dusty," Eckstein said.

More rain needed

Phoenix-based Tonto National Forest Public Information Officer Jim Payne agrees with Eckstein.

"There will have to be substantially more (rainfall) for the closures to be lifted," he said.

Monday afternoon, fire conditions throughout the Tonto continued to be rated "extreme."

When, and if, the Tonto National Forest opens the forest and campgrounds, the process will probably be done in conjunction with Coconino and Apache-Sitgreaves which also are now closed to entry, Payne said.

Currently, about 170,000 acres within the Payson and Pleasant Valley Ranger Districts are closed to everyone except area property owners and the holders of special-use permits.

Additionally, 18 of the 70 campgrounds in the area are closed and there is a ban on all campfires in both the Tonto and Coconino National Forests.

Those sanctions, Payne said, are working well. For evidence, he points to the fact that there have been no human caused fires since June 17.

Also, from May 24 when the first closures were enacted until the middle of June, six human-caused fires were reported.

"That's unheard of ... we usually have a dozen in that period of time," Payne said. "The public is paying attention."

Little rainfall, plenty of lightning

While the monsoon rains haven't produced enough moisture to lift the bans, recent lightning storms did keep fire crews busy.

According to Eckstein, lightning caused fires were reported and extinguished on both Tuesday and Wednesday of last week.

The Tuesday fire, was contained at less than one-quarter of an acre and the Wednesday fire at one-tenth of an acre, Eckstein said. The weekend of June 17 and 18, ranger district suppression crews responded to one fire Saturday and four Sunday. All fires were reported by the Diamond Point lookout station.

Throughout the Tonto National Forest, there was a total of 19 lightning caused fires from June 17 to June 24, Payne said. Those fires mostly involved snags and single trees and were limited to a total of less than three acres.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.