Arizona’s national forests have all banned campfires for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Forest Service hopes to reduce the odds of a brush fire that would gather firefighters from throughout the region, increasing the odds they would spread the virus among themselves.

The move represents yet another blow to Rim Country’s already battered tourist season, with dispersed camping one of the few socially distanced pleasures open to many people.

“While we know that going outside provides forest and grassland visitors needed space, exercise and satisfaction, we are taking the risks presented by COVID-19 seriously,” said Acting Regional Forester Elaine Kohrman. “We are providing some recreation opportunities where we can, while protecting and keeping employees, the public and our communities safe from the virus and unwanted human-caused wildfires.”

The ban began on April 22 and will continue until June 30, unless rescinded sooner.

The Forest Service has already shut down many recreational sites that typically draw crowds — especially in places like Sedona.

Now federal officials have banned campfires anywhere on the forest, a step normally taken only when dried fuels and rising temperatures push the fire danger to extreme levels.

The ban should reduce the kinds of small, early season fires that force firefighters to gather.

Moreover, many local fire departments send resources to such fires, reducing the number of paramedics and firefighters available for other emergencies. Coping with the pandemic has already taxed many fire departments, with firefighters either sick or quarantined after contact with COVID-19 patients.

A fire can draw firefighters to a single camp from all over the country.

“The campfire restriction will prevent the drawdown of fire and medical resources to unwanted human-caused wildfires and reduce firefighter exposure to COVID-19 during the current pandemic,” said Kohrman.

The ban applies to campfires, charcoal grills and barbecues, coal and wood-burning stoves. People can still use pressurized liquid or gas stoves, grills and lanterns with shut-off valves in an area at least three feet from any flammable materials. The ban applies to both developed campsites or dispersed camping.

For information on Forest Service restrictions go to: the Interactive Visitor Map at www.fs.usda.gov/goto/ivm for more information on available activities. For additional information on COVID-19, go to https://www.coronavirus.gov. Information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is available at: www.usda.gov/coronavirus.

Contact the writer at paleshire@payson.com

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