Payson and every national forest in northern Arizona this week imposed tough restrictions on the use of fire in the face of big crowds and dangerously dry conditions.
As if to underscore the danger, firefighters snuffed three brush fires in the area Monday before they could spread through dry brush.
Two small fires started near Roosevelt Lake and another just off Highway 87 near Rye, according to a report from the Gila County Sheriff’s Office.
Payson Fire Marshal Robert Lockhart on Wednesday banned open fires, burning permits, fireworks or recreational fires in the town limits, mirroring the restrictions on Forest Service land. People can still use charcoal grills on private property. Both the town and the Tonto Forest also ban target shooting, which has caused several recent small fires.
Gusty winds, rising temperatures and dry fuels prompted red flag warnings during the week.
The flurry of small brush fires on Monday underscored the danger as Rim Country enters the peak fire season, without a trace of rain in weeks.
The first fire, which ignited about 7:15 a.m., was just outside Rye. Don Nunley, Forest Service fire management officer for Payson and Pleasant Valley areas, said the fire could have started from a brake pad, vehicle spark or cigarette butt.
The Arizona Department of Transportation contained the fire to a 10-by-20-foot area.
Two hours later, a fire started near the Ironwood Campground south of Roosevelt Lake, apparently after someone used a grinder on a metal fire ring that generated sparks that set some grass on fire.
Again, the fire was contained before it could spread.
And finally, about 9 a.m., the Tonto Basin Fire Department put out a small brush fire near Bobcat Trail.
Nunley said crews are seeing small fires almost daily.
Luckily, many of the grasses in the area are still green, offering some fire protection. But by June, the moisture in the plants will head into the roots, drying out the tops for the summer.
The Forest Service keeps three engines, a helicopter and a Hotshot crew of 20 stationed and ready in the Payson Ranger District.