AZ WILDFIRES PROMPT FOREST CLOSURES, SHUTTING DOWN 38% OF ARIZONA TRAIL
The Trek (June 23, 2021) by Kelly Floro
Wildfires currently raging across Arizona have prompted full closures of several national forests within the state in the interest of public safety. The move effectively shuts down 300 miles of the Arizona Trail in the northern part of the state.
Kaibab, Coconino, and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests announced the closures on Tuesday afternoon, citing “ fire danger, dry conditions, and persistent wildfire activity during a time when firefighting resources are sparse.” Prescott National Forest announced its own full closure on Wednesday morning.
Twenty-three wildfires are currently burning a collective 327,000 acres across Arizona according to Wednesday morning’s most recent estimates.
A full forest closure means that the public is prohibited from entering any part of the affected forests at any time. Only those with private property within the Forests will be allowed access to their property, as well as authorized personnel. Violators will be required to appear in federal court and will be subject to a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 or six months in prison, or both.
According to the Forest Service, “work on thinning and other forest and watershed restoration projects will cease. Partner agencies, organizations, concessionaires, outfitters, permit holders, and contractors, are all prohibited from entering the national forest.”
The closures for Kaibab and Coconino went into effect at 8 a.m. on June 23rd and will remain in place until September 1st or until rescinded. Apache-Sitgreaves will close on June 24th at 8 a.m. and Prescott will close at 8 a.m. on June 25th. Visitors are advised to suspend planned trips to any of the four forests “for the next several weeks.”
Officials say the forest closures will not be rescinded until sufficient precipitation falls to reduce the risk of wildfire and hot, dry temperatures abate. Sporadic rainfall will not be enough to lift the forest order.
The scale of the shutdown, with three Arizona national forests closing simultaneously, is unprecedented for the state in recent history. Coconino National Forest last experienced a full forest closure in 2006, while Kaibab and Apache-Sitgreaves last had full closures in 2002.
However, the closures are reminiscent of last year’s historic fire season in California, when all 18 California national forests were temporarily shuttered along with most of the Pacific Crest Trail in the state.
300 MILES OF ARIZONA TRAIL CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC
The Arizona Trail Association said on Tuesday that the closure “includes 300 miles of the Arizona Trail between General Springs Trailhead (Passage 27) and Winter Road (Passage 43) near the Utah border,” shutting down some 38% of the 800-mile trail.
Passages 17 is also closed due to the Telegraph Fire, while Passages 25 and 26 are closed due to the Backbone Fire for an additional 44 miles of AZT closures.
The closures are unlikely to affect thru-hikers, since northbounders typically start in early spring and complete by early May, while southbounders don’t start until October to avoid the summer heat.
Kaibab National Forest borders Grand Canyon National Park on both the North and South Rim, but while the Forest is closed, the Park remains open at this time.