Gila County has updated its fire ordinance ban so it more closely mirrors the Forest Service’s varying fire stages.

The county has had an Open Outdoor Fire Ordinance since 1998 and has updated it twice. The board of supervisors updated it again Aug. 17.

The ordinance stated that any time the United States Forest Service issues an order placing restrictions on fires within the Tonto National Forest, Gila County is to follow suit on private property within unincorporated areas.

The county’s fire restrictions more closely matched Stage II (elevated) restrictions. So even if the forest was under Stage I restrictions, the county was under a more restrictive order.

“This has the unintended consequence of the county being more restrictive on private property than the Tonto National Forest is on forest lands, for at least part of each year,” said Deputy County Manager Jacque Sanders. “In addition, the USFS Tonto National Forest has occasionally implemented restrictions by local ranger district; however, the county ordinance does not have that flexibility.

The Tonto National Forest utilizes the Southwest Interagency Fire Restrictions and Closure Operating Plan 2019 for defining and determining definitions and processes for implementing fire restrictions.

This April the supervisors discussed updating the county’s outdoor fire ordinance and gave direction to county management to proceed.

“Since the responsibility for enforcement resides with the Gila County Sheriff’s Office, they were consulted and they have confirmed that they would be able to enforce by ranger district should that be needed,” Sanders said.

Since the responsibility for interpretation often resides with the local fire districts, county staff took part in a countywide fire chief meeting and had several follow-up conversations. Generally, they understand the county’s perspective of matching the Tonto National Forest restrictions.

The Aug. 28 revision to the outdoor fire ordinance applies fire restrictions compatible with USFS Tonto National Forest Stage II (elevated) restrictions and allows for flexibility in applying those restrictions by ranger district. It specifies that any time the USFS Tonto National Forest implements Stage II or greater restrictions on fires, either by designated ranger district or the Tonto National Forest as a whole, it shall be unlawful for any person to build, maintain, attend, ignite or use an open outdoor fire, bonfire, campfire or fireworks in the same geographical locations within all unincorporated areas of Gila County.

Additionally, the definitions in the updated ordinance more closely match the definitions used by the Tonto National Forest to prevent conflicts or misunderstandings.

“It includes the emergency provision, since we are currently in a conflict between the USFS Tonto National Forest Stage I restrictions,” Sanders said.

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