First and foremost, I want to thank the wildland fire crews that attacked the Bush Fire so effectively. While devastating, they protected our communities.
I went to the Valley this week and had my first opportunity to see the charred ruins that the fire left behind. As Pine-Strawberry Fire Department Chief Gary Morris reported last week, it looked like a moonscape.
On the way back to Payson, there were approximately 20 U.S. Forest Service (USFS) fire vehicles parked along the road, just three miles south of town. They were putting out a fire that started along the road that appeared to have spread about a hundred yards up the hill. With windy, dry conditions it was scary after passing miles of destruction from the Bush Fire.
Our Payson Flycasters Club and Gila Trout Chapter of Trout Unlimited held a Zoom meeting recently. Several folks shared our frustration that the forests were not closed yet. We understand that would put an end to our fishing, but that is of no concern compared to the destruction of the forest and the communities that could result from a simple careless act with fire.
Too many of our club members have put out either illegal campfires, or fires left by campers carelessly after they broke camp. It seemed that the Bush Fire would convince the USFS that conditions had reached a point that all Arizona forests should be closed.
While the Tonto National Forest was closed July 2, many of the surrounding lands remain open.
I called Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest (ASNF) and was told that while there were no fires allowed in campgrounds or anywhere in the forest, that the forests would remain open, likely throughout the summer.
Although that response did not surprise me, because of similar decisions in the past, it still frustrated me and again caused me to question the logic of the USFS. Fire knows no boundaries, as was made crystal clear by the Bush Fire.
Visitors to the forest, especially from the Valley, have little to no concept of national forest boundaries. If they hear that the forest is open, they assume that the entire forest is open.
When I shared our club members’ experience of putting out fires left by campers, the response that I got was that callers to ASNF have been very responsible and checking before their trips about fire restrictions. I was told that the USFS feels they are attending quickly to the few individuals that are not following the campfire restrictions.
I was even more frustrated and scared after the call. We are one mistake with fire away from complete destruction of our forest and our communities.