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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tonto Forest fire danger rated 'Extreme'

             
In June 23 years ago, one of the hottest months in Arizona history was experienced. Temperatures during this week in June rose to records of 122 degrees in Phoenix and 106 degrees in Payson.

               In addition to the extreme temperatures, Arizona had been in a severe three-year drought that produced critically high fire danger in Payson and Rim Country.

               A dry lightning strike ignited the Dude Fire beneath the Mogollon Rim that ultimately torched 28,480 acres, destroyed 63 homes, and claimed the lives of six firefighters from the Perryville Fire Crew.  Five other firefighters were injured.

              The fire conditions on the Payson Ranger District today and projected for the next several days, are almost exactly like they were on this district in June of 1990.  Accordingly, the Tonto National Forest is now in a fire danger rating of "Extreme."
                
 “Extreme” fire danger means that fires start quickly, spread furiously, and burn intensely. All fires are potentially serious. Direct attack of fires is rarely possible for firefighters and may be dangerous except immediately after ignition.

“Extreme” fire danger is the highest level of fire danger possible under the National Fire Danger Rating System. In 1974, the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and state forestry organizations established a standard adjective description for five levels of fire danger – Low, Moderate, High, Very High, and Extreme.

Visitors are reminded that, due to drought conditions, hot temperatures, and increased fire danger, the forest is in elevated fire restrictions which began at 8 a.m., Wednesday, June 19.  Most types of fire or fire-causing activities are prohibited across the Tonto National Forest.

The following are prohibited: 
1.      Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, campfire, charcoal, coal, or wood stove, anywhere on the forest, including fires in developed campgrounds.
2.      Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building.
3.      Discharging or using any kind of firework or other pyrotechnic device.
4.      Discharging a firearm, except while engaged in a lawful hunt.
5.      Using an explosive.  An explosive is defined as any chemical compound, mixture, or device, the primary or common purpose of which is to function by explosion.
6.      Operating a chainsaw, or other equipment powered by an internal combustion engine. 
7.      Welding or operating acetylene or other torch with an open flame.

Exceptions to the restrictions include the following:

  1. Operating or using a motor vehicle, boat or other watercraft, or any other internal combustion engine, with a spark-arresting device properly installed, maintained, in effective working order, and meeting established safety standards.
  2. Residents, owners or lessees of land, and holders of Forest Service special use authorizations within the restricted area are exempt from prohibition number 1 (building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, campfire, or wood or charcoal-burning stove) provided such fires are within a permanent structure (e.g. dwelling) and a spark-arresting device is in use.

“With the Fourth of July holiday coming up, the first rule for anyone who plans to visit public lands is to know is that fireworks are strictly prohibited on national forests.  At all times,” emphasized Forest Supervisor Neil Bosworth.

“We want people to know that the Tonto is open for business, and so are the towns and businesses that cater to our visitors,” continued Bosworth, “From playing in the water at one of the lakes or rivers or camping in a cool pine forest, there are plenty of opportunities for folks to celebrate the holiday with us.”

“Fireworks and other pyrotechnic devices are banned year-round on National Forest System lands, not just during fire season,” said Fire Staff Officer Clay Templin, “but the Independence Day holiday always provides that additional temptation to break out the firecrackers and bottle rockets. Put simply, we will not tolerate the use of fireworks on the Tonto National Forest, and people who break the law will receive hefty fines, and maybe some jail time.” 

All explosive and incendiary devices are prohibited on the forest at all times,” added Templin.  “Recreational shooting is banned throughout the forest under current fire restrictions.  As soon as forest fire danger levels lower, we will lift the elevated fire restrictions that are currently in place.”

“Because of ongoing drought, dry forest conditions, and exceptionally low relative humidities, fire restrictions are needed to protect forest users, structures and natural resources from the increased potential for dangerous wildland fires,” said Templin. “These precautionary measures are intended to enhance our visitors’ quality recreation experiences. Most areas of the Tonto National Forest remain available for recreation activity, including all the Salt River system lakes.” 

Violation of these restrictions is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 for individuals, $10,000 for organizations, and imprisonment for up to six months. 

            For more information regarding forest recreation sites and fire restrictions, please contact the Tonto National Forest at (602) 225-5200, or check online at www.fs.usda.gov/tonto      

 

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