Oak Creek Canyon sites closed to public due to potential flooding

PHOENIX - Camping, fishing, swimming and hiking will be off-limits in Oak Creek Canyon and some surrounding areas over the holiday weekend and possibly for months to come because of the threat of flooding after a spate of recent wildfires.

All developed recreation sites, vehicle pullouts, swimming holes and hiking trails closed as of Thursday. Officials issued the closures on U.S. Forest Service land because of the risk of flooding during the monsoon season and the limited ability to quickly evacuate people along Oak Creek.

State Route 89A and the businesses along the scenic highway will remain open.

The National Weather Service says the chance for thunderstorms with measurable rainfall will increase Friday and through the holiday weekend.

Meanwhile, the Coconino County Board of Supervisors declared a state of emergency this week for Oak Creek Canyon because of the flooding danger, largely as a precautionary measure to enable the county to receive state resources if needed, the Arizona Daily Sun reported.

The 31-square-mile Slide Fire in May has made areas around Oak Creek Canyon high-risk flood zones.

According to an expert analysis, storms could lead to heavy runoff of water, ash and debris into the canyon because of the burned soil.

The upper area of Slide Rock State Park remains open to the public but there will be no access to the creek.

"The recreation sites themselves might be OK. But when people park and disperse along the creek, that's the safety issue we're looking at," Heather Noel, a spokeswoman for Coconino National Forest, told The Arizona Republic.

Officials said the open-ended closure of the area was unprecedented, but a much-needed measure in light of the potential dangers.

"It's going to rain hard. We know where the water's going to go," Gary Johnson, fire marshal for the Sedona Fire District, told the newspaper.  "The last thing we want is for people to be having a picnic in Oak Creek and then something occurs."

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