A combination of continuing drought and thousands of acres of dead trees from bark beetle infestation have resulted in campfire and smoking restrictions beginning today (Tuesday) in a large portion of the Rim country's forests.
Campfires, charcoal grills and stove fires are prohibited and smoking is restricted to enclosed vehicles and buildings in an area north of the Control Road.
"It basically goes from the (Tonto) Natural Bridge road, following the power line to the north and the west," Ed Armenta, head ranger for the Payson Ranger District, said.
"That's the boundary."
The restrictions also go "all the way to the east where the Control Road hits Highway 260 at Tonto Village, according to Armenta.
"It goes all the way to the top of the Rim north of the highway," he said.
While the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park remains open, similar restrictions have been imposed in the Pinal Mountains south of Globe.
The Tonto National Forest instituted the restrictions despite the fact that the forest is not as dry as it was a year ago.
"We're in a better situation regarding the weather than we were last year, but we've got all those dead trees -- the bark beetle mortality -- that's creating some concern," Armenta said. "Last year we were already getting into closures at this time.
"We've just got a different set of circumstances this year, and it's going to get hotter and drier. We thought it was appropriate to go into restrictions (at this time), particularly around Pine and Strawberry."
Armenta said there have already been 10 wildfires so far this season, including two last weekend.
"One was up by the fish hatchery under the power lines," Armenta said. "It was kids playing with fireworks. The other one was just east of Kohl's Ranch."
Under the restrictions, campfires, charcoal grills and stove fires are prohibited on national forest lands without a permit, except in Forest Service-developed camp and picnic grounds where grills are provided. Pressurized liquid or gas stoves, lanterns and heaters meeting safety specifications are allowed.
Smoking is only allowed within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site, or while stopped in an area at least three feet in diameter and free of all flammable material. Fireworks are prohibited on all national forest lands.
"There is no relief in sight, and it looks like the fire season is upon us," Armenta said. "We need all the help we can get to let people know they have to be extremely careful."
For other local fire restrictions and fire information in general for any southwestern forest, go to www.fs.fed.us/r3/ fire or call toll free 1-877-864-6985.
Town of Payson restrictions
The Town of Payson is instituting open burning restrictions similar to those being imposed by the Tonto National Forest.
The restrictions do not affect the use of personal charcoal and gas grills. For barbecues at the parks, contact the Parks and Recreation Department at 474-5242, ext. 7.
All existing town burn permits are suspended immediately, and fireworks are prohibited within the town without approved permits.
For further information, call the Payson Fire Department at 474-5242, ext. 3. Rim country residents outside the Town of Payson should contact their local fire departments for applicable restrictions.
Kaibab, Coconino restrictions
Because of favorable conditions in the Kaibab and Coconino national forests, officials do not expect to implement campfire and smoking restrictions before the Memorial Day weekend. Conditions in the two forests are much better than last year because of winter precipitation and cooler temperatures.
"We're pleased that last year isn't repeating itself," Forest Supervisor Mike Williams said. "However, it's important to remember to keep an eye on your campfire and make sure it's cold to the touch before leaving. Forest visitors are always urged to be careful with campfires."
Color Codes for Fire-Danger Classes
1. Low. 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. Fires in open cured grassland may burn freely a few hours after rain, but woods fires spread slowly by creeping or smoldering, and burn in irregular fingers. There is little danger of spotting. The color code is green.
2. Moderate. 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. The average fire is of moderate intensity, although heavy concentrations of fuel, especially draped fuel, may burn hot. Short-distance spotting may occur, but is not persistent. Fires are not likely to become serious, and control is relatively easy. The color code is blue.
3. High. 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. High-intensity burning may develop on slopes, or in concentrations of fine fuel. Fires may become serious and their control difficult, unless they are hit hard and fast while small. The color code is yellow.
4. Very High. 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. Direct attack at the head of such fires is rarely possible after they have been burning more than a few minutes. The color code is orange.
5. Extreme. 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. Under these conditions, the only effective and safe control action is on the flanks until the weather changes or the fuel supply lessens. The color code is red.