Good weather, no fire restrictions for holiday

Posted at 11:46 AM, May 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-27 14:57:29-04

Calm winds, sunny skies and no campfire restrictions in national forests.

The Memorial Day holiday marks the unofficial start of the summer and is looking ideal for spending time outdoors, barbecuing, hiking, biking and fishing. The state is cutting the price in half for one-day fishing licenses and stocking trout in popular lakes. State transportation crews also will take a break from major road projects to keep traffic flowing more freely.

The holiday weekend routinely is among the busiest of the year at recreation sites around Arizona. Waits at the Grand Canyon's South Rim entrance station are expected to be at least an hour long. Hundreds of campsites in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest already are full, as is the Mather Campground at the Grand Canyon's South Rim and the one at the North Rim, and others are expected to fill up quickly.

The lack of fire restrictions for a second year in a row at this time comes thanks to the amount of moisture in fuels. Officials track the moisture content, the percentage possibility a fire would start with an ignition source and how hot the fuels would burn before deciding to implement fire restrictions, said Heidi Schewel of the Coronado National Forest.
"We haven't reached those numbers yet," she said.

But that doesn't mean officials aren't worried about embers escaping from campfires and potentially starting a wildfire. The Coconino National Forest counted more than 600 abandoned campfires last year and they're popping up by the dozens each week in other areas.

"We would prefer not to have a wildfire," said Apache Sitgreaves spokeswoman Marta Call. "We have lots of videos and things, YouTube, on how to put out your campfire. We really want people to understand that it's super important not to walk away."

The rule is that campfires should be cool to the touch after being doused repeatedly with water and the coals stirred.

Several fires are burning across the state but none are threatening structures. Traffic was slowed on Interstate 17 south of Flagstaff this week to 45 mph when smoke from a lightning-caused fire that's being allowed to burn in the Coconino National Forest clouded the roadway.

A portion of the Coconino forest northeast of Strawberry and a section of the Tonto National Forest east of State Route 288 near Young are closed because of heavy smoke from fires.

Coconino forest spokesman George Jozens says work on a trio of managed fires largely will come to a stop for the holiday.

"We're trying to get the smoke levels down so people can enjoy the weekend," he said.

Along with making sure that brush is cleared from areas where campfires are built, state game officials say people need to make sure barbecue grills are cleaned and food is properly stored to keep unwanted animals from wandering into campsites.

Bears have been spotted in portions of the Tonto National Forest south of Globe, leading to the closure of a recreation site and campground.