Tonto Forest Reopens

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All closures and campfire and smoking restrictions on Tonto National Forest lands within the Payson Ranger District were lifted as of 8 a.m. Wednesday.

"Increased precipitation, relative humidity and fuel moisture content from monsoon activity in the Rim country have been key in lifting district fire restrictions and closures," said Payson Ranger District Fire Prevention Officer Gary Roberts.

All areas of the district have received at least an inch of rain, and humidity levels have been significantly higher than earlier in the summer.

"The relative humidity during the day hasn't gotten lower than 30 percent, which is pretty good," Roberts said. "At night, it's been really good -- anywhere from 60 to 100 percent.

"When it's 100 percent, we're at the point where when you get up in the morning, there's droplets of water on the leaves and the grass, and when we're at that sort of a condition, fires just don't get up and take off."

While restrictions were lifted in the Coconino National Forest a week ago, Roberts said the Payson Ranger District decided to follow a cautious course.

"When you're managing public lands, you want to be conservative and safe," Roberts said. "But you don't want to lock the forest up."

Roberts said the district tries to strike a balance between being careful and being realistic.

"We don't want to cry wolf," he said. "When things are extreme, we want people to pay attention to that; when they aren't as extreme, we don't want to act like they are."

The district also resumed burning in brush pits this week, including the Blattner Pit south of Diamond Point, the Ponderosa Pit across from Ponderosa Campground, and the Pine and Perley pits near Pine and Strawberry. Rim country residents can expect to see smoke, especially from the Ponderosa Pit.

"We have over 500 tons to burn in there, so smoke is going to be fairly significant for a week or so," Roberts said. "We don't want people to panic."

Firefighters have responded to eight fires since Friday, July 25, seven of which were caused by lightning. Two of the lightning-caused blazes were located near Granite Dells. The others were in the Ellison Creek area, the Big Canyon area near the Tonto Fish Hatchery, the Bonita Creek area, the Mazatzal Mountain area and south of Round Valley.

All were caught at one-tenth of an acre or less except the Mazatzal Fire, which reached one-half acre before it was contained.

The human-caused fire was ignited by a motor bike that caught fire in Gisela Tuesday. It was extinguished at three-quarters acres.

So far in 2003, the district has experienced 72 fires, all but 16 caused by lightning. Fifty-one were extinguished at one-tenth of an acre or less.

The largest, the Rim Fire, started July 23 and reached five acres in size before it was contained after an all-night effort put in by firefighters.

Campfires were the most frequent cause of non-lightning fires, igniting four blazes. One fire was considered arson and another was caused by fireworks.

The 2003 fires were fought by the district's own firefighters, severity firefighters from other forests, and cooperating local fire departments.

Meanwhile, the Payson Hotshots have returned from fighting a large fire complex in New Mexico. The 20-person crew will only spend one day in Payson before leaving for yet another fire.

There are 73 Hotshot crews across the nation, most comprising college-age students who fight fires in the summer and go to school in the off-season.

"They can make good money in those three or four months," Roberts said.

For other local fire restrictions and Southwest public lands fire information, log on to www.fs.fed.us/r3/fire or www.azfireinfo.com or call toll-free 1-877-864-6985.

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