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Tonto Forest announces summer restrictions

PHOENIX — Three million acres of the Tonto National Forest will go into campfire and smoking restrictions Wednesday just days ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

Smoking outside of cars, campfires outside of developed campgrounds and target shooting will banned.

Clay Templin with the Tonto National Forest says the lack of significant winter snowfall, the ongoing drought combined with heat and wind turned much of the state into a tinderbox.

“Vegetation is barely hanging on in places,” he said. “Where we saw fires moderate in the past as the fire moved from one type of vegetation to the next, they’re now just chugging along. We’re especially concerned with target shooting. We’ve responded to eight fires which we were able to keep small but it’s a disturbing trend for us.”

Last year, target shooting ignited the 17,000-acre Sunflower Fire. It cost more than $5 million to put out.

Templin said it’s possible Tonto National Forest, the fifth largest in the nation, could go into elevated restrictions and forest closures in June because, as bad as the conditions are now, they’re only going to get worse until the monsoon arrives.

The Prescott National Forest and Bureau of Land Management lands in the Phoenix District will also go into restrictions Wednesday.

Campfire and smoking restrictions will take effect Thursday in Apache and Navajo counties, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, and within local fire districts located in both counties.

Last year, 9.3 million acres burned across the nation, the third-highest amount since 1960.