On May 23, United States Forest Service officials for the Coconino National Forest started indefinite closures of six different recreational areas within the forest due to the extreme fire danger.
Four of the six areas are located within the Flagstaff area and includes the San Francisco Peaks and Elden Mountain areas, both Kelly and Fay Canyons, Fisher Point and the Mormon Mountain area. The Mogollon Rim near state Route 87 and the Fossil Creek area are the other two sections of forest closed until further notice.
These closures were triggered by the drought in northern Arizona, which has already had the state in stage two fire restrictions.
“The fire danger right now is incredibly high right now, and even though we see restrictions every year,” said Brady Smith, public affairs officer for the Coconino National Forest. “It’s uncommon to see closures like this.”
The closures have even put a stop to forest thinning efforts.
“Forest closures of any kind are not taken lightly, as they affect many people, partner agencies, projects, permit holders, prior plans and the public. Everyone is prohibited from entering forest closure areas,” said a May 2018 Forest Service press release.
Smith stressed to those still going out into the open areas of the forest that fire restrictions remain in place.
“People need to know that even though there are a lot of closed areas, there are still many open ones. Those still planning to venture out need to be aware that in the open areas stage two fire restrictions still remain in place,” Smith said.
Stage two fire restrictions prohibit many recreational activities, including building any sort of campfire, setting off fireworks or any other sorts of explosives, smoking (unless within a building or vehicle), operating tools powered by internal combustion engines, driving off forest service roads and discharging firearms unless engaged in a lawful hunt.
Smith also said a lot of rain will be needed to end the closures.
“There is no exact amount of rain we need to re-open the forest, but a substantial amount is needed,” Smith said.
There is no rain in the immediate forecast for the Flagstaff area, but researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have predicted a strong monsoon season is coming.
“Over the last few months, the long-term weather models have been trending toward a wetter-than-normal monsoon season this year,” said April Warnecke of CBS5 in Arizona.
The U.S. Forest Service believes that monsoon season will be heavy as well too. In their May 2018 press release, they stated that the closures would end when the forecasted heavy rains arrive.
“Closures and fire restrictions will be lifted when sufficient precipitation is received to adequately reduce the risk of wildfire, and hot, dry weather conditions are not forecast to continue,” said the U.S. Forest Service May 2018 press release.
In Arizona, monsoon season will start on June 15.
While the closures may do nothing more than inconvenience some peoples’ holiday vacation plans, for those who actually work within the a closed forest areas, this is much more than just an inconvenience.
Arizona Snowbowl general manager J.R. Murray explained how the closure was going to impact the ski resort.
“Despite the closures, we will still be conducting repairs and renovations to the lodge areas. We will also be working with the Coconino National Forest to perform erosion repairs. The lifts won’t be operating but we will still be working,” said Murray. “We are being forced to layoff almost 50 employees here, but as soon as we get enough rain to end the closures, we hope to hire them back on.”
With the monsoon season quickly approaching, everyone from those working at Snowbowl to those just looking to camp to firefighters and forest service officials are hoping the forecasts for a heavy monsoon season are true.
No further closures have been announced at this time, and the current closures remain indefinite.
For those still looking to venture out into the woods over the holiday weekend, a map of all of the entire Coconino National Forest closure areas can be found on the Forest Service website.