Two weeks into broad forest closures, rangers report few conflicts with the public, but worrisome violations of the rules.
With the tinderbox conditions and drumbeat of news about major wildfires, the last thing a sensible person should want to do is light a campfire in the woods.
But never underestimate the battiness of people, say rangers.
This past weekend, authorities cited a man for starting a fire near East Verde Estates.
Don Nunley of the Payson Ranger District said this was the only fire incident in the Tonto National Forest, but authorities had to cite other people for violating the closure order.
“People can’t believe waterways are closed,” said Nunley.
Most of the forest violation issues have occurred north of Highway 260 and east of Highway 87, said Nunley. Violators risk a $100 ticket.
Locals often forget the forest closure includes them too, said Nunley. The Forest Service does allow residents to drive to and from their homes, but they may not use the forest for any other purpose.
All campgrounds north of Highway 260 and east of Highway 87 are closed due to the fire danger. Fossil Creek also remains closed. The handful of remaining campgrounds below the Rim shut down this week because of the danger from bears.
However, Nunley said visitors may camp in the forest in the areas not restricted. But they cannot light fires, smoke, use chain saws, drive off-road vehicles without spark arrestors, use fireworks or engage in any other fire-risky activities anywhere in the Tonto Forest.
Most people understand the reasoning for the forest closure but Nunley has received a few phone calls.
“There’s people who complain the federal government is taking over,” he said. “Then I explain that we want their kids to enjoy the forest and they get it.”
Lt. Tim Scott of the Gila County Sheriff’s Office said the Forest Service has put up signs and flagged roads that lead into the closed forest areas.
“If we receive a call about someone in a closed area, we will try to locate them and remove them from the closed area and they will be cited by the officer,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Last year, businesses suffered from the closed forest, but Brenda Long, the general manager from Majestic Mountain Inn, said so far her business is better than last year.
“I don’t feel it’s affecting our business very much,” she said, “It’s a little better than last year.”
So far, none of her customers have asked about the forest. Most of the people staying at her inn want to know about the numerous events happening in the Rim Country. Her customers come from Phoenix to escape the heat for a couple of days — or to stay and explore purchasing a house.
“For the hospitality business, customers just want to get out of Valley and stay somewhere,” she said,. “There’s so many activities. When I market outside of Payson, I tell them about all the activities in Payson.”
Long has also offered specials for people, such as 15 percent off during the week and 10 percent off during the weekends.
Long said she will even offer her weekly discount over the 4th of July weekend. She’s still not booked up for the day, but she hopes for the best.
In the real estate market, Ray Pugel says sales are flat, but holding their own.
A large retailer in town that serves people who need to stock up on supplies says his business is also better than last year.
“My sales are up and customer counts are up,” he said.