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Campfire restrictions in Arizona forests go into place ahead of schedule

PHOENIX — After one of the weakest winters in years, millions of acres of state and federal land in Arizona have been placed under campfire and smoking restrictions ahead of normal.

Carrie Templin, a spokeswoman with the Tonto National Forest, said conditions have been similar to 2011, when the Wallow Fire burned almost 540,000 acres in eastern Arizona.

That blaze was the largest in Arizona history.

“It’s May and we have a long way to go before we’re going to get any rainfall and relief,” Templin said.

Previous timetables for implementing restrictions has been around Memorial Day, although they have been put in place in early spring.

“We need the public to do everything they can to prevent a fire. At this point in time it’s not lightning that’s causing fires, it’s people,” Templin said.

Wildfire crews have already worked the Tinder, Rattlesnake, Pinery and Viewpoint blazes in the past weeks.

The Tinder Fire, which grew to over 16,000 acres, started because of an illegal campfire.

Violating the campfire and smoking restrictions will come with a hefty fine and serious time behind bars.

Guilty parties could be fined as much as $5,000 and could spend up to six months in jail.

And the money could get bigger.

“If you cause a wildfire you could be liable for the full suppression costs,” Templin said. “It can run into tens of millions of dollars.”

As two examples, the Wallow Fire cost $79 million to fight from the ground and in the air; the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski Fire came with a cost of $46 million.

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