Careless campers lit at least 70 illegal campfires last weekend on the the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, despite repeated warnings, a ban on almost all fire-related activities and extreme fire danger, according to the Forest Service.
“In most cases, campers complied with our request to put out their campfires, however, citations were issued, according to Mark Empey, fire management officer with the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.
The Tonto and Coconino national forests have also imposed strict fire restrictions throughout the forest, with the return of drought conditions and the dangerously dry condition of the forest. The region is heading into the peak fire danger season now, with little prospect of rains until the monsoons set in — probably not until July.
Each spring as the weather warms, the winds increase and vegetation dries out, fire danger across the state creeps upward. Most Arizona campers are used to the almost annual need for restrictions on having campfires. Those Stage 1 restrictions, prohibiting campfires outside of developed campgrounds, went into place last week across public lands in Arizona.
If the forest gets more dry, the Forest Service may close the forest completely — as it has each year for the past several years.
The National Weather Service reports severe drought across the forest, with a small area of only “abnormally dry” conditions centered on Gila County.
Arizona experienced several mega fires in 2011 and this year’s drought conditions and moisture emulate the blue print from 2011, which saw the largest fire in state history in the White Mountains.
Rangers say they need the public’s help in reporting abandoned fires or people who build campfires outside of developed campgrounds.
The fire restrictions will remain in place until national forest lands within Gila, Apache, Coconino, Greenlee and Navajo counties receive significant precipitation.
White Mountain and Rim Country visitors are reminded that some campfire restrictions are always in effect, such as in forested areas within city limits of most northern Arizona communities. Additionally, fireworks are never allowed on national forests.
For more information about restrictions, call (928) 333-3412 or toll free 1-877-864-6985 or visit www.311info.net, and also the new interagency Web site — firerestrictions.us — created to inform residents and visitors about fire restrictions and closures across the Southwest.