Forest managers on the Coconino and Tonto national forests have closed several large sections to the public because of wildfire danger. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports, it comes ahead of expected heavy visitation during the Memorial Day Weekend.
The closures include popular camping and recreation sites near the San Francisco Peaks, along the Mogollon Rim, and other areas officials say are highly susceptible to wildfire. Forest patrols typically find dozens of abandoned campfires during holidays.
"It’s very dry, we have to do something. All those places are watersheds, and that’s water that’s vital to our life. So we want to make sure that if a fire should break out, it doesn’t break out in one of those areas that would cause catastrophic flooding after the fire and destroy our watersheds," says Coconino spokesman George Jozens.
Violators face a mandatory appearance in front of a federal judge, along with thousands of dollars in fines and possible jail time. Many state-managed lands throughout Arizona are also off limits to the public until the region receives significant precipitation.
Nearly all federal, state and county lands in Arizona remain under rigid restrictions banning fires. The temporary closure follows one of the driest winters on record.