Tonto National Forest Reopens

Steady rain reduces fire danger, closure lifted

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Just as the bright yellow barrier tape strung across trails and backroads marked the closure of the Mogollon Rim on June 23, their removal early this week meant the forests had reopened.

The onset of the monsoon season and steady rains over the holiday weekend, especially near Pine and Strawberry, prompted Forest Service officials to lift the ban in the Payson Ranger District.

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The Payson Packers enjoy a hike on the Mogollon Rim Tuesday after the Payson Ranger District lifts an 11-day forest closure.

"The closure is no longer needed because fire danger has been reduced by increased moisture," said Vinnie Picard, Tonto National Forest fire information officer.

Although the closure has been canceled, campfires are allowed only in fire rings in developed campgrounds.

"No open campfires," said Payson Ranger District Fuels Specialist Don Nunley.

The developed campgrounds with fire rings include Ponderosa, Houston Mesa, Tonto Creek, Christopher Creek and Sharp Creek.

Campfires are still prohibited in the Pleasant Valley Ranger District, which includes all campgrounds in the Canyon Creek cluster and along the Young road. Although the arrival of rain signaled the reopening of the forests, they also created their share of havoc for fire crews. PRD firefighters extinguished 29 lightning-caused fires since the monsoons arrived.

"Most of those were kept to less than .01 acre," Nunley said. "The largest fire was about four acres and it was down by Oxbow where the vegetation is different -- a lot of grass and brush."

During the closure, all activities on Forest Service lands from the top of the Mogollon Rim to the Control Road through Tonto Village to Highway 260 were prohibited. Hiking, riding horses or mountain bikes, hunting, camping, fishing, building a campfire or operating a motorized vehicle were outlawed.

During the 11-day closure, several visitors violated the ban and were cited.

"We always have those that do that," Nunley said.

"We had engine crews, the Gila County Sheriff's Office and our own (USFS) law enforcement on the lookout for violators."

-- To reach Max Foster call 474-5251 ext. 114 or e-mail mfoster@payson.com.

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