Fire restrictions have been placed on the Payson area and much of the Tonto National Forest in response to extreme fire danger caused by drought conditions and above-normal temperatures.
Effective Thursday, April 18, use of campfires, charcoal fires, smoking materials, chainsaws, welding equipment, ATVs and other machinery without properly installed spark arresters, and firearms (unless engaged in legal hunting activities) is prohibited.
The only exception to the restrictions is that campfires are allowed in designated campgrounds within provided campfire rings. Campgrounds in the Rim country where such fires are allowed are Houston Mesa, Upper and Lower Tonto Creek, Sharp Creek, Ponderosa and Christopher Creek.
Karl Siderits, Tonto National Forest Supervisor said that similar restrictions have been put in place for the Prescott and Apache-Sitgreaves national forests as well. Lower desert elevations south of Roosevelt Lake are not affected.
"Because of this year's severe moisture deficit and dry forest conditions, fire restrictions are needed at this time to protect forest users, structures and natural resources from the increased potential for dangerous wildland fires," Siderits said. But within the limitations of the restrictions, he emphasized, the entire forest remains open and petroleum-fueled stoves, lanterns and heating devices are allowed.
Recent windy conditions in the Rim country are an exacerbating factor, according to Brenda Straw, customer service representative for the Payson Ranger District. In fact, the Forest Service reported Thursday that eight new fires burning a total of 26 acres have been reported in Arizona.
"Even experienced campers need to use extreme caution because of the wind we're having," she said. "It's bad out there."
If windy conditions persist, Straw says officials might have to ask people to douse campfires in approved areas.
"If, for example, the wind kicks up or other dangerous conditions are present, we can tell campers to put out their fires even those in campgrounds where they pay a fee," she said.
The Payson Ranger District has also stopped issuing dead/down fuelwood permits and the Payson Fire Department and most other fire districts in the Rim country are no longer issuing burn permits.
"The little bit of moisture we had earlier this week didn't do us much good," Payson Fire Marshall Jack Babb said. "I just looked at a forecast for the next week or so, and they are not anticipating any moisture. We're already 6 to 7 inches below normal, and May and June are typically pretty dry months."
Both Straw and Babb emphasized that the restrictions are not just aimed at out-of-town campers. Local residents need to use extreme caution as well.
Forest Service officials, local law enforcement agencies and local fire departments are all involved in enforcing the restrictions, Babb said. Violators can be cited and even arrested. Penalties are determined by local magistrates.
Straw says people might as well get used to the restrictions, because they are likely to be in place for an extended period of time.
For more information on recreational sites and fire restrictions, contact the Tonto National Forest at (602) 225-5200. For general information on fire activity and restrictions in Arizona, call (877) 864-6985 toll-free or visit the Southwest Region website at www.fs.fed.us/r3/fire.
Descriptions, color codes for fire-danger classes
Low (green) Fuels do not ignite readily from small firebrands, although a more intense heat source, such as lightning, may start many fires in duff or punky wood.
Moderate (blue) Fires can start from most accidental causes, but with the exception of lightning fires in some areas, the number of starts is generally low. Fires in open-cured grassland will burn briskly and spread rapidly on windy days. Woods fires spread slowly to moderately fast. Fires are not likely to become serious, and control is relatively easy.
High (yellow) All fine dead fuels ignite readily and fires start easily from most causes. Unattended brush and campfires are likely to escape. Fires spread rapidly and short distance spotting is common.
Very High (orange) Fires start easily from all causes, spread rapidly immediately after ignition and increase quickly in intensity. Spot fires are a constant danger. Fires burning in light fuels may quickly develop high-intensity characteristics, such as long-distance spotting and fire whirlwinds when they burn into heavier fuels.
Extreme (red) Fires under extreme conditions start quickly, spread furiously, and burn intensely. All fires are potentially serious. Development into high-intensity burning will usually be faster and occur from smaller fires than in the very high danger class (item 4). Direct attack is rarely possible, and may be dangerous, except immediately after ignition. Fires that develop headway in heavy slash or in conifer stands may be unmanageable while the extreme burning condition lasts.