Signs Of A Dangerous Season

Forests around Pine-Strawberry closed

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A forest closure in the Pine-Strawberry area took effect at 8 a.m. yesterday (Thursday), the same day Tonto National Forest officials announced the Diamond Fire is 100 percent contained.

Karl Siderits, Tonto National Forest supervisor, explained the rationale behind the decision to begin instituting forest closures.

"We are acutely aware of the wildfire hazards that face many of our communities," he said. "Preventing people from using their public lands is a difficult decision, but this is the responsible thing to do."

Extreme fire danger prompted closure of the forest to the public in an area around Pine and Strawberry, as well as the Pinal Mountains south of Globe. The area included in the closure is bordered by Control Road 64 and Tonto Natural Bridge Road to the south, the power lines running from the bridge road to the Irving Power Plant to the west, the Rim to the north, and Webber Creek to the east.

"These two areas are being closed due to lower than average winter precipitation, continuing drought and thousands of acres of dead trees killed by the pine bark beetle infestation," Siderits said. "These conditions dramatically increase the potential for wildfires to spread, and we feel now is the time to take this action. We continue to caution our visitors to help prevent human-caused wildfires by following fire safety standards."

Areas within the closure include Strawberry Mountain, the Narrows, and Hardscrabble Road. All trails in Pine Canyon are closed and the Highline Trail from the Pine Trailhead to Webber Creek is also closed. Fossil Creek Road will remain open, but Fossil Springs Trail 18 is closed.

All activities on Forest Service lands under closure are prohibited, including hiking, riding horses, hunting, camping, building a campfire, or operating a motorized vehicle.

Exceptions include residents who live within the closure area or their invitees and government officials in the performance of official duties.

The campfire, smoking and other restrictions imposed on the entire Payson Ranger District and most of the rest of the Tonto National Forest remain in effect.

Violation of these prohibitions is punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for a legal entity other than an individual, or imprisonment for not more than six months, or both.

The Gila County Sheriff's Office will remove the license plate from any vehicle found in the closed areas. When owners retrieve their plates at the sheriff's office, they may be cited.

"We used to just leave notes, but people would toss them on the ground and drive away," Det. Brian Havey said. "Now we pull their plate and leave a note for them to come see us."

The Tonto Natural Bridge State Park remains open to visitors and the Strawberry Festival will be held as scheduled.

Meanwhile, Prescott National Forest closed a large area in the Bradshaw Mountains southeast of Prescott effective at 8 a.m. today. This area is generally known as the Castle Creek Wilderness and Horsethief Basin area.

For more specific information about Tonto National Forest closure areas, including maps, visit the Tonto website at www.fs.fed. us/r3/tonto or call 602-225-5200. For other local fire restrictions and Southwest public lands fire information, go to www.fs. fed.us/r3/fire or call toll-free 1-877-864-6985.

Diamond Fire out

Firefighters contained the Diamond Fire yesterday.

The fire, which was human-caused, erupted around 1:15 p.m. Sunday on the west side of Highway 87 about 30 miles south of Payson. It grew to approximately 1,200 acres before fire crews finally surrounded it.

Those crews are now concentrating on patrolling established fire lines to put out hot spots and mopping up any problem areas within the interior of the burn, according to Vincent Pickard, deputy public affairs officer for the Tonto National Forest.

At the height of operations there were eight firefighter crews, three helicopters and four single engine air tankers. A total of about 300 people were involved in the fight.

About 110 personnel from three firefighting crews supported by three wildland fire engines and three helicopters are involved in the wrap-up.

Forest Service law enforcement personnel have determined that the fire was started by people recreating in the Sunflower area. A $500 reward for information leading to the identification of those responsible for starting the fire is being offered. Anyone with information should call U.S. Forest Service Special Agent Pancho Smith at 602-225-5309. Callers can remain anonymous.

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