Fire Danger Still High For July 4 Holiday

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Let it rain. Please, please, please. Let it rain.

That’s the refrain in the Tonto National Forest, where officials hope that forest closures and fire restrictions will get them through a busy holiday weekend without a fresh disaster.

Fortunately, the National Weather Service has offered hope that the wet, summer monsoons will gust to the rescue soon — with a 20- to 30-percent chance of thundershowers Saturday and Sunday, building to a 40-percent chance on Monday.

Payson officials worry that could cause problems for a Monday fireworks show that could attract 20,000 people, but acting Tonto National Forest Supervisor Tom Klabunde will take any rain he can get.

The entire Apache Sitgreaves Forest remains closed, as thousands of firefighters continue to mop up after the 700-square-mile Wallow Fire, the largest in state history. Only a handful of recreation areas remain open, including Fools Hollow Lake, Willow Springs Lake, Woods Canyon recreation area and a few other developed sites.

In the Tonto National Forest, the area north of Highway 260 remains closed and so does the bulk of Fossil Creek. Strict fire restrictions remain in effect throughout the forest, even at most of the still open developed campgrounds.

Large stretches of the Coconino Forest have also shut down, although most of the developed recreational areas remain accessible.

“Obviously, we’ve been very dry,” Klabunde said as crews continue to mop up some of the biggest wildfires in state history. “We’ve had these monsoon surges overnight — with a little rain here and there.”

He hopes closures and a ban on fires, fireworks and other fire-causing activities throughout the region will prevent any fresh man-made fires.

However, the dry lightning strikes likely to accompany the buildup to the rain-producing monsoons will make it a nerve-wracking weekend for firefighters.

“You’ve got to keep those prevention messages first and foremost. We’re really concerned about the fire nonsense now.”

But the lightning introduces a frightening wild card. “We’re already getting lightning and having a spark or two from that,” said Klabunde.

The Tonto National Forest has so far escaped any major fires, although the Willow Fire last week gave firefighters a scare north of Bear Canyon Lake.

However, the fast-moving Stanley Fire in Graham County spread explosively to 8,000 acres this week and remains just 10-percent contained, despite the efforts of 450 firefighters.

Burning near Safford at an elevation of 3,000 feet, temperatures near 108 degrees, 15 percent humidity, and 30-mile-an-hour wind gusts blowtorched the fire.

Fortunately, the rise in temperatures and winds didn’t stir up the 538,000-acre Wallow Fire in the White Mountains, which remains 95-percent contained after having destroyed 32 buildings and forced the evacuation of some 10,000 people at its peak.

Gila County and Payson have added their own fire restrictions to the Forest Service clampdown.

Anyone starting a fire, using fireworks, driving off-road without a spark arrestor, smoking or entering closed areas could face a $5,000 fine and six months in jail.

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