Blessed by the vigorous onset of monsoon rains, the Forest Service this week lifted closures in Rim Country, but left many fire restrictions in place.
The Tonto National Forest on Wednesday will lift closures that had limited use of Fossil Creek, Tonto Creek and areas off the Control Road, crimping tourism at the height of the season.
Tonto National Forest will now allow visitors into those areas and will also allow campfires in developed campgrounds, including Houston Mesa, Ponderosa, Sharp Creek, Upper Tonto Creek and Christopher Creek.
The Coconino and Apache-Sitgreaves forests atop the Rim also lifted most closures, but will still limit campfires to developed campgrounds.
The openings couldn’t come at a better time for outdoor enthusiasts, with monsoonal storms set to take a break this week before returning this weekend.
The openings come after several good soakings.
Monday morning, the roar of monsoonal thunder served as a Rim Country alarm clock. For nearly two hours, the storm towered over Payson, dropping three-quarters of an inch. That rounds out a series of weekend storms, which brought with them 1.15 inches of rain to the area’s thirsty forests. For the year, Payson has received just over 6 inches of rain, still well below normal.
The storms convinced forest officials that the risk of major wildfires had declined enough to allow them to loosen fire restrictions and closures in some areas.
In the Tonto Forest, officials not only re-opened sections along the base of the Mogollon Rim, but also Mt. Ord, Four Peaks and the Three Bar Wildlife area.
The Apache-Sitgreaves and the Coconino lifted most of their closures on Tuesday. The Prescott National Forest expects to lift fire restrictions soon.
Tonto National Forest Fire Staff Officer Clay Templin said “We’re not completely out of wildfire danger yet, so these modified fire restrictions are needed to protect forest users, structures and natural resources. We will continue to monitor the situation and lift the remaining restrictions once the wildfire threat lessens.”
The restrictions still in place apply to all areas outside of developed campgrounds. The restrictions include a ban on campfires or charcoal-burning devices, smoking outside of a cleared area, operating internal combustion power tools, using welding equipment or torches with open flames, operating combustion engines without spark-arresting devices or discharging firearms, except in accord with hunting laws.
Since July 2, firefighters have battled small lightning fires every day in Tonto National Forest. Luckily, none have grown beyond one or two trees.
The cooperation of the public with fire restrictions has been great, he said, and we “greatly appreciate that.”
At the Grand Canyon, fire restrictions on the North and South Rim have been lifted with wood fires again permitted in developed campgrounds. Stage 1 fire restrictions remain in effect across the Sitgreaves portion of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.
These restrictions prohibit fires, campfires and use of charcoal, coal or wood stoves, except in fire grills and grates provided by the Forest Service in developed recreation sites. Campers can still use gas-fueled stoves, lanterns or heating devices. The ban on smoking except within an enclosed vehicle or building remains in effect.
“Although campfires and smoking will be allowed throughout the two forests, people should never leave a campfire unattended, always extinguish fires completely before leaving the forest, and dispose of cigarettes in ash trays. Remember, it is everyone’s responsibility to practice fire safety and prevent human-caused fires,” according to an Apache Forest press release.
Weatherwise, the rest of the week is shaping up perfect for outdoor recreation.
After a brief surge of moisture Monday morning, dryer air is on its way. Although there is still a chance of showers, meteorologists at the National Weather Service predict dry conditions Wednesday through Friday.
This weekend, storms should sneak back into the area, with a good chance of rain this Sunday.