Rains Ease Fire Danger, Restrictions Lifted

Photo by Pete Aleshire. |

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The Tonto National Forest this week lifted all remaining fire restrictions, thanks to the onset of the monsoon.

Rising humidity, lower temperatures and light afternoon rains all week have lowered the fire danger in the Coconino, Kaibab, Prescott and Tonto national forests.

In addition to lifting fire restrictions, the Tonto and Coconino national forests reopened Fossil Creek, closed to public entry since July 1.

The four forests imposed fire restrictions in May, hoping to reduce the risk of human-caused wildfires. Even so, rangers have continued to find abandoned campfires throughout Rim Country almost every weekend.

Forest managers lift fire restrictions when fire danger lessens. Criteria used to determine when to implement and lift fire restrictions include current and predicted weather, fuel moisture, fire activity levels and available firefighting resources.

The National Weather Service forecast a roughly 40 percent chance of rain in Rim Country every day this week, declining to a 10-30 percent chance over the weekend. The monsoon should settle back in next week, with increased chance of rain.

Flagstaff and the areas atop the Mogollon Rim have already enjoyed a wet monsoon season. The big thunderheads have mostly remained atop the Rim, however, delivering only scattered showers to parched Rim Country.

Highs have mostly remained in the upper 80s, before cooling off as the afternoon clouds build up.

Payson normally gets a third of an inch of rain in June and 2.43 inches of rain in July and another 3 inches in August. So far this year, we’ve had barely a third of an inch in July. For the year, Payson has received 8 inches, compared to the normal 11 inches to this point.

Flagstaff, by contrast, has enjoyed an unusually wet monsoon — as have many communities atop the Rim.

Despite the onset of the monsoon, Roosevelt Lake remains just 47 percent full. Tonto Creek at Roosevelt is running at about 60 percent of normal while the Salt River at Roosevelt is running at about 82 percent of normal, bolstered by runoff from the White Mountains. The Verde River is running at 173 percent of normal, thanks to the heavy rains around Flagstaff.

Northern Gila County remains one of the only areas in the state listed as merely “abnormally dry” on the U.S. Drought Monitor, maintained by the Weather Service and other federal agencies. A larger area centered on the county remains in moderate drought. Most of the rest of the state still lingers in severe to extreme drought, especially all along the state’s eastern border. A portion in the north on the Navajo Reservation remains in “exceptional” drought, which has devastated sheep and cattle ranching operations on the Navajo Reservation.

Despite the move to lift fire restrictions, the Tonto National Forest continues to list the fire danger as “very high.”

While campfires will be allowed on the four forests, visitors are urged to use caution and follow basic safety tips. Forest users should never leave a campfire unattended. To extinguish a campfire, ashes should be stirred using a shovel and mixed with dirt and water, making sure everything is wet and cold to the touch. As Smokey cautions, “If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave!”

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