Campers in the Rim country will have to do without campfires and a wide range of other amenities beginning this weekend.
Campfire and other restrictions were placed on the entire Payson Ranger District and much of the Tonto National Forest yesterday (Thursday), a week earlier than last year.
In announcing the restrictions, the Payson Ranger District blamed a combination of "persistent drought conditions, low relative humidity, above normal temperatures, low fuel moisture content, high energy release components, and extended windy conditions" for increasing the potential for wildfire in Mogollon Rim country.
"The potential is worse than last year," Dan Eckstein, assistant fire management officer for the district, said. "We're going into restrictions earlier this year, and we had over six inches of rain in February last year."
While the forest appears relatively green, Eckstein says that doesn't reflect actual conditions.
"Everything is greening up a little, but with the hot temperatures and the winds there's no soil moisture anymore and it's really drying out quick," he said. "We've been pretty lucky as far as human starts, but the potential is there for a severe season. We've still got a couple months before we can expect any real good rain -- if we're lucky."
Specifically, the restrictions include:
- Building, maintaining, attending, or using a fire, campfire, or charcoal burning device.
- Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site, or while stopped in an area that is barren or cleared of all flammable material within a three-foot radius.
- Operating any internal combustion engine-driven power saw, dredge, or similar power equipment.
- Welding or operating an acetylene or other torch with open flame.
- Operating or using any internal or external combustion engine without a spark arresting device.
- Discharging a firearm, except persons taking game in accordance with Arizona hunting laws.
Where restrictions apply, gas-fueled stoves, lanterns and heating devices are allowed.
Inside the restricted areas, campfires on the Tonto National Forest are allowed only in provided campfire rings in specified Forest Service fee campgrounds. In the Payson Ranger District, those campgrounds are Houston Mesa Campground, Ponderosa Campground, Upper Tonto Creek Campground, Christopher Creek Campground and Sharp Creek Campground.
Tonto National Forest Supervisor Karl Siderits emphasized that the restrictions do not preclude use of the forest for recreational activities.
"These precautionary measures are not intended to prevent our visitors from enjoying quality recreation experiences," he said.
Restrictions will be enforced through a variety of measures, according to Payson Ranger District Fire Prevention Officer Gary Roberts.
"We'll blanket the Phoenix media with that information, we try to increase awareness here via the media, we use severity patrols looking for violators, we coordinate with the rural fire departments, and they do a great job keeping their eyes out for us as well," Roberts said.
For further information regarding recreation sites and fire restrictions, contact the Tonto National Forest at 602-225-5200 or go to www.fs.fed.us/r3/tonto.
Air tanker contracts terminated
With the forest fire season here, the Forest Service has terminated all the contracts for 33 aging heavy air tankers.
"The utilization of heavy air tankers during fires is often key to catching them before they become huge," Roberts said. "Our ground troops are great, but oftentimes an air tanker or two on a fire that's starting to blow up makes all the difference."
According to Eckstein, the effectiveness of any replacement aircraft for the tankers is likely to be hampered by less-experienced personnel.