Large portions of Arizona forests closed due to unusual dry season

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Many parts of Arizona’s national forests will be off limits during Memorial Day weekend because of fire restrictions caused by a season that has been drier than normal.

Prescott, Payson and Winslow experienced their driest winter on record with virtually nonexistent snow in some areas. As a result, these dry lands face a higher threat from wildfire than ever. In 2018 alone, the state has seen over 600 fires and over 50,000 acres burned. Only seven of those were caused by lightening, while the rest were started by people.

Dolores Garcia, public affairs specialist for the Bureau of Land Management, says that typically at this time there may be some restrictions beginning to go into effect. It’s rare to see entire areas closed going into Memorial Day weekend.

“We’re really in a very critical fire situation,” says Jeff Whitney, state forester for the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management. “We’ve already had several devastating fires… We’re trying to step up our prevention messaging and trying to help the public understand at this time of year, all of our fires are human caused.”

It’s unfortunate as well that many of these areas are water sheds that hold critical resources and water. They supply not only the communities directly adjacent, but also as far south as Phoenix, Garcia says.

While many areas are facing closures, families are still able to go out camping this weekend with no trouble. Garcia advises they follow the principle of “know before you go.” Be aware of where you’re camping and how close you’ll be to any threats of wildfire.

“It’s critically dry,” Whitney says. “These closures, which are unfortunate, are well thought out and coordinated across all the jurisdictions and agencies. We don’t like to close, but it’s just extremely dry.”

For more information on which specific areas are facing closures, visit firerestrictions.us/az.

Dolores Garcia: Public Affairs Specialist, Bureau of Land Management

Jeff Whitney: State Forester, AZ Department of Forestry and Fire Management

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