Forest Patrols Increased


Compliance with the Tonto National Forest closure is improving, but extra law enforcement officers are being added nonetheless.

"The first 10 days of the closure, my guys were running ragged," Tom Lister, patrol captain for the Tonto National Forest, said. "But it's calmed down after Memorial Day not only the number of citations, but also the number of reports."

Lister said he is getting additional help from regions that can spare it.

"I've got one (law enforcement officer) right now from Idaho, one from Georgia, and I'm getting one this afternoon from North Carolina," Lister said. "That's how the forest service deals with emergencies we look to other regions that aren't in the same condition we are."

He said the forest also is paying for an additional Gila County Sheriff's deputy from noon to midnight for each of the Payson, Globe and Pleasant Valley ranger districts.

Penalties for being caught in the forest vary, depending to the judge, but Lister said they range from no fine to $5,000, a slap on the wrist to six months in jail.

"The standard has been a $50 fine for being in the closure, but if there's mitigating circumstances, we have put people in jail," he said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office has made a commitment to vigorously enforce forest closures because of the seriousness of the danger.

"I feel as good as we can with all the preparation and coordination we've done around here with all the emergency services agencies regarding what will we do as far as evacuations and those kinds of things," Lister said.

But preparations can only go so far.

"Hopefully the monsoon comes in with moisture and not just lightning," he said. "We can do the best job of prevention in the world, and we can't prevent the lightning. That's what has us worried, so we'll just keep our fingers crossed.

On a positive note, the Payson Ranger District got through another weekend without a forest fire

"Considering that our conditions could not be more critical, the fact that our district had nada, zip, zilch is just fantastic," Gary Roberts, district fire prevention officer, said.

A new video from the U.S. Forest Service entitled "Wildfire: Preventing Home Ignitions," can be borrowed by local residents free of charge. Copies are available at Planet Video, the Payson Public Library, Ponderosa Video in Pine and Strawberry Market.

Sedona/Slide Rock closed

Slide Rock State Park closed and Highway 89A through Oak Creek Canyon north of Sedona will be restricted to residents and those with hotel or campground reservations effective at 8 a.m. Wednesday, June 12.

"Under normal conditions, it would be a major challenge to evacuate this area," Coconino County Sheriff Joe D. Richards said. "In a year with conditions this severe, it is imperative that the number of people and vehicles in the canyon be reduced."

An estimated 12,000 vehicles pass through Oak Creek Canyon each day.

Lister said he understands why such action is necessary.

Fighting a fire in Oak Creek Canyon is difficult. Air tankers cannot be used because of the steep terrain.

Fuel conditions in Oak Creek Canyon are as extreme as can be measured. Small fuels are at 1-percent moisture content, and large fuels at 6 percent. For comparison, kiln-dried lumber is 7-12 percent.

All other routes in and out of Sedona remain open.

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