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Arizona Group Seeks Campfire Ban This Season

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April 16, 2012 by   - () Leave a Comment

A view of smoke plume from the Wallow Fire in 2011. Photo submitted by Jeremy Graham.

A Flagstaff, Ariz., group is pushing for bans on campfires outside developed campgrounds on five national forests in northern and central Arizona.

Campfires Limited wants the ban to be put in place annually from May 1 to July 15.

The group is approaching fire departments across the Mogollon Rim, elected officials for six counties, officials for at least 10 northern Arizona towns, Arizona's congressional delegation, and ultimately the regional office of the U.S. Forest Service to seek new policies.

About 1 million acres of Arizona burned in wildfires last year, with national forests counting for more than 90 percent of that area.

The devastation included eastern Arizona's Wallow Fire ignited just after Memorial Day last May. It burned 32 homes, evacuated thousands, and cost more than $79 million to fight.

Humans started about one-third of the wildfires in the Coconino National Forest last year — or 86 of them — with lightning responsible for the rest.

"There are a few people — they don't want to be penalized for the careless few and I don't want to see them penalized for the careless few," said Luann Meek, a Timberline resident pushing for changes. "But the careless few burn up thousands and thousands of acres. The risk is just too great and the destruction is just too great."

Among their arguments seeking an annual dispersed campfire ban are that decisions on fire restrictions would no longer need to be made on short notice, such as on very windy days, and that standardized signs posted all season noting the dates of campfire restrictions would cost taxpayers less.

The Arizona Daily Sun (http://bit.ly/IaNT6E) says the group also claims Flagstaff's forests are abnormally dense and prone to large wildfires compared to past centuries; large wildfires aren't healthy for the forests; the U.S. Forest Service lacks adequate staffing to patrol for all fires and many serious wildfires occurred when there were no restrictions in place or slightly ahead of restrictions.

"What do we have to do to get across to these guys how dangerous this is?" asked fire ban proponent Jim MacAvoy. "Who are they accommodating here?"

MacAvoy, Meek and a handful of others lobbied for early restrictions on the Coconino National Forest last year.

This time, they want a predictable ban across most of the state's national forests.

"As I understand it, the Forest Service received hundreds of letters, which they never acknowledged," Meek said.

The Coconino National Forest subsequently put a section of the Dry Lake Hills off-limits to campfires last year, following Meek's campaign. It also started publicizing windy days when it asked people not to light fires, and it moved to a more conservative threshold for implementing fire restrictions.

It banned dispersed campfires in mid-May last year, but then lifted the ban before Memorial Day, only to reinstate it on June 4.

MacAvoy wants the Coconino National Forest closed to campfires every Memorial Day, when fire danger is typically high.

"We have to look at this forest in the midst of this drought as being in a really precarious position," he said.

Officials with the Coconino National Forest declined comment, saying it's a matter for the Southwestern Region office of the Forest Service.

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