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Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
10:38 AM Fri, Sept. 21st

Prescott joins other forests in fire restrictions

PRESCOTT – Conditions on the Prescott National Forest don't necessarily warrant campfire restrictions, its top fire officer said Wednesday.

However, the Prescott Forest announced Wednesday that it is banning campfires on most parts of the forest, because four of the five other national forests in Arizona banned them, too.

"While we do not have the conditions we look for to initiate the dialogue to initiate restrictions, other forests do," said Ed Hollenshead, the Prescott Forest's chief fire officer. "It was felt that forests going into restrictions at different times and different ways was confusing to the public."

Still, officials have rated the fire danger on the Prescott Forest extreme for about a week, said Tony Sciacca, assistant fire management officer on the northern portion of the forest. 'Extreme' is the most dangerous rating.

And that rating is common in June, he added, as temperatures rise and conditions remain dry.

"It's a good precaution," Sciacca said of the restrictions. "We are picking up abandoned campfires."

At 3 a.m. Wednesday, the Forest Service put out a human-caused wildfire near Highway 89 just south of Prescott, across the highway from the White Spar campground, Sciacca said. Firefighters kept it to approximately one-tenth of an acre, he said.

The last wildfire near Prescott took place on May 28 near Thumb Butte, less than a mile west of Prescott-area homes. Someone purposely spread flammable liquid on a trail and lit it. Firefighters held that blaze to five acres.

Last year's wildfire season conditions were worse. Prescott Forest officials banned campfires outside campgrounds and picnic areas May 13, then banned all fires June 2. On June 23, officials started allowing fires inside developed campgrounds and picnic areas again, then lifted all fire restrictions June 30.

The monsoon season officially arrived June 18 last year, the earliest arrival since the Weather Service starting naming Arizona's "monsoon season" in the 1950s.

Monsoon rains typically arrive from the south in late June or early July, said David Blanchard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Flagstaff.

Although northern Mexico has been experiencing monsoon thunderstorms the past few days, the unsettled weather that has moved into New Mexico, southern Arizona and eastern Arizona has brought thunderstorms but little rain, he said.

"The real solid summer monsoon is still a ways away" for northern Arizona, he predicted. The Weather Service should have more information within a few days, he added.

The Coronado National Forest in southern Arizona initiated fire restrictions before the other forests, and it already has lifted the restrictions in all but the Catalina Ranger District.

Contact Joanna Dodder at jdodder@prescottaz.com