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Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
12:35 AM Wed, Sept. 26th

Fire danger forces closure of Kaibab

A firefighter sprays water Monday on a fire burning outside the community of Mormon Lake near Flagstaff. 

Associated Press/Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun

A firefighter sprays water Monday on a fire burning outside the community of Mormon Lake near Flagstaff. Associated Press/Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun

Most of the Kaibab National Forest will close Friday to reduce the chances of human-caused wildfires.

The only way it won't close is if it gets "significant, widespread" rain first, officials said.

Officials on the Prescott and Coconino national forests, parts of which also fall in Yavapai County, say they have no plans to close their forests this week. Neither do other national forests in Arizona.

All forms of fire are illegal right now on the Prescott and Coconino national forests, as well as U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands and state trust lands in the region.

The national forests have prohibited smoking outside of vehicles or buildings, chainsaws are illegal, and the forests aren't allowing any type of motorized vehicles off forest roads.

So far, Prescott National Forest officials have closed only a small portion of the forest, the Horsethief Basin Recreation Area and the Castle Creek Wilderness Area about 30 miles south of Prescott.

The only closures on the Coconino are located near the Birdie Fire, which has burned 1,500 acres about three miles southwest of Mormon Lake Village since lightning ignited it Friday. That fire is zero-percent contained.

Coconino officials estimate that lightning has sparked 41 fires on that forest since Friday, and the Birdie is the largest.

Lightning also sparked the 6,000-acre Slide Fire on the North Kaibab Ranger District Thursday. It is 40-percent contained.

The Prescott Forest doesn't have any fires burning right now, fire staff officer Mark Johnson said.

The public generally has been great about following fire restrictions, Johnson added. Fire prevention officers found only two abandoned campfires over the weekend, and they didn't escape the fire rings, he said.

Someone ignited a wildfire on private land in the Highland Pines subdivision just west of Prescott Sunday, but firefighters held it to a 10-foot by 10-foot spot, said Charlie Cook of the Central Yavapai Fire District. Its cause is under investigation.

Humidity is up a bit, but the Prescott Forest still is hovering around extreme fire danger, Fire Management Officer Curtis Heaton said.

Forest Service forecasters are calling for a good chance of rain by Thursday or Friday throughout the Prescott Forest region, Johnson said.

That's a "double-edged sword" because the thunderstorms also will bring lightning, Johnson said.

Unfortunately, Forest Service meteorologists also are calling for the monsoon (summer rainy season) to be "late, light and loony," Johnson added.

As of press time the City of Prescott hasn't seen measurable rain since May 17.

While the Prescott forest has extra local resources at hand, national resources such as aircraft and Hot Shot teams are scarce right now with fires all over the western U.S.

That's one reason that most of the Kaibab is closing, public affairs officer Jacqueline Denk said.

She also cited the Slide Fire as a reason for the closure, and the extreme fire danger because of lack of rain now and in the forecast for a couple of weeks.

"While many other forests received rain last week, the vast majority of our forest did not," Kaibab Forest Supervisor Mike Williams said. The rains in northern Arizona generally fell to the east of Interstate 17 and south of Interstate 40.

The exceptions to the Kaibab closure are four campgrounds - Kaibab Lake, Cataract Lake, Ten-X and DeMotte - and three commercial operations: Jacob Lake Resort, Kaibab Lodge Resort and the North Rim Country Store. Kaibab Forest Road 246 accessing Camper Village and KFR 76 accessing Spring Valley Cabin also will remain open.

For details about fire-use restrictions on private lands in the Prescott region, see the website www.regionalinfo-alert.org.

For details about fire restrictions on public lands throughout Arizona, call 1-877-864-6985 or visit www.azfireinfo.az.gov.