The Tonto National Forest will be almost entirely closed Wednesday at 8 a.m. a measure forest officials are calling "the most severe fire restrictions in the forest's history."
"That includes the entire Payson Ranger District," Ed Armenta, district ranger, said. "People who live within the forest can go to their private property, but they are not allowed to venture onto national forest lands. It pertains to them as well."
Armenta said he recommended the Payson Ranger District be closed based on a combination of factors the long-range weather forecast, the fire danger and increasingly limited resources for fighting fires. He said no precipitation is expected before July.
"We realize the effect on the local businesses as well as the users of the national forest, and I take it very seriously when I have to take anything away," Armenta said. "But to me, this made sense. I think it's the right thing to do."
The only exceptions to the closure are the "Chain of Lakes," the area west of the Verde River, the Goldfield Mountain area south of Saguaro Lake, and the Rolls area north of Saguaro Lake. The Chain of Lakes refers to Roosevelt, Apache, Saguaro, Canyon, Bartlett and Horseshoe lakes and includes the Lower Verde and Lower Salt rivers.
Arizona state highways within the forest remain open, as do fee campgrounds along Highway 260 east of Payson. However, no fires will be allowed in these campgrounds, which include Ponderosa, Upper Tonto Creek, Christopher Creek, Sharp Creek, and Houston Mesa off Highway 87.
"Officers from national forests around the state are reporting the continued occurrence of illegal campfires and smoking violations," Tonto National Forest law enforcement officer Tom Lister said. "These illegal fires increase the chance of major wildfires and cause a drain on local firefighting and law enforcement resources."
Violators are subject to a $5,000 fine, six months in jail, or both. For further information on Tonto National Forest closures and restrictions, call (602) 225-5200
Wildland Fire update
Besides the Tram Fire still burning on the southern edge of the rim about six miles west of Clints Well, at least two fires were extinguished in the area over the weekend.
One fire, spotted at about 9:15 a.m. Sunday near Washington Park was quickly knocked down by helicopter bucket work. A fire crew was brought in from Camp Geronimo to mop up hot spots.
Forest Service crews also responded to and extinguished a brush fire at milepost 212 on Highway 87 Sunday evening about 8:40 p.m.
Meanwhile, Coconino National Forest officials announced a partial closure of that forest for just the third time in nearly 30 years. The closure, also scheduled to take effect at 8 a.m. Wednesday, affects about 66 percent of the forest.
Most of the areas being closed have Ponderosa pine. The only developed campgrounds to be closed are the Kehl Springs and Knoll Lake campgrounds at the south end of the forest and Little Elden Horse Camp and Locket Meadow campgrounds on the north end.
For more information on the Coconino closures, call 1-877-864-6985.