Wildfire Danger Shuts Down Forest Areas

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Due to extreme fire conditions, 140,000 acres within the Tonto National Forest will be closed for the Memorial Day weekend, according to Acting Forest Supervisor Tom Klabunde.

Simultaneously, a ban on all campfires in previously restricted areas will be implemented.

"We are concerned about the extremely dry forest vegetation and record-setting temperatures, and feel that this action is necessary for public safety reasons," Klabunde said.

One of the areas to be closed as of May 24 is within the Payson Ranger District.

Eight miles north of Payson, the closed area of approximately 75,000 acres starts at the point where Highway 87 intersects the boundary with the Coconino National Forest.

It proceeds southeast along Highway 87 to the intersection with Control Road (Forest Road 64), then east on the Control Road to the intersection with Highway 260. The area continues east on 260 to the forest boundary with the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, then west along the Mogollon Rim back to Highway 87.

Also closed will be the Pinal Mountains just south of Globe, a 65,000-acre area within the Globe Ranger District.

The areas closed represent less than five percent of the total land area of the Tonto National Forest. Entry will be prohibited except by permit.

Already declared off-limits by the U.S. Forest Service is the Sierra Ancha Wilderness north of Globe, where 9,359 acres were recently scorched by the Coon Creek Fire, which is now contained but still smoldering in some areas.

The last time any portions of the Tonto National Forest were closed was four years ago May 22, 1996 said Jim Payne, a public information officer for the U.S. Forest Service. Due to extreme fire hazards, a total of 12 Tonto areas were closed to the public and throughout the state, 3.9 million acres out of Arizona's 11.2 million acres of National Forest were made off-limits to Memorial Day revelers.

Previously announced closings for this Memorial Day weekend include several areas within the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, including the forest around Alpine; east of Greer; southwest of Show Low; the undeveloped section of the Woodland Lake Tract; and the area south of Forest Lakes. These areas will be closed until further notice.

The ban on all campfires expands on previously announced restrictions that excluded all developed recreation sites. The new order prohibits campfires even in developed campgrounds in the higher elevations. Gas grills and propane stoves will still be allowed.

There continue to be no restrictions on campfires or smoking in most desert portions of the Forest, including areas around the six reservoirs on the Salt and Verde Rivers and their lower portions.

For more details about closures and restrictions within the Rim country, contact the Payson Ranger Station at 474-7900.

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