Fire season is off to a busy start already, including close calls in New River, Prescott

By TARA ALATORRE

NEW RIVER – The wet winter and heavy rains brought an amazing superbloom to the Sonoran Desert, but it’s not all daisies anymore now that wildfire season is upon us.

Because when the blooms fade, yesterday’s flower fields transform into a tinder box that is a ticking time bomb just waiting for a spark to ignite brush or wildfire. This year’s fire season is already off to a strong start in Arizona, with the Maricopa County Parks and Phoenix Parks and Recreation already implementing its fire ban on May 1.

“Given the abundance of rain we’ve received this year, we’ve had an outstanding wildflower season. Unfortunately, as the blooms and brush die off and dry out, the parks are left with dangerous levels of fuel loads on the ground that can ignite a wildfire with just a small spark,” R.J. Cardin, Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Director said.

Pictured: The abandoned fire near New River that was located by a hiker and extinguished by Daisy Mountain firefighters last weekend. Photos by Brent Fenton/Courtesy of DMFM
Pictured: The abandoned fire near New River that was located by a hiker and extinguished by Daisy Mountain firefighters last weekend. Photos by Brent Fenton/Courtesy of DMFM

The fire ban includes the use of campfires, fire pits and charcoal grills. Park visitors will still be permitted to use gas/propane grills in designated areas like ramadas, semi-developed and developed camping sites.

“As a land manager, we believe the decision to implement sooner rather than later is the responsible thing to do to ensure park visitor and park resource safety,” said Cardin.

That ban also includes campfires along the shoreline at Lake Pleasant Regional Park due to higher than usual water levels and dried brush along the shoreline. Any violations of the fire ban can result in a citation, according to Maricopa Parks.

Smoking in Maricopa Parks is permitted but discouraged, and cigarettes need to be properly extinguished and thrown in a garbage receptacle.

However, smoking in Phoenix Parks is not prohibited during the fire ban while you are in an enclosed vehicle. Smokers are asked to practice extreme caution and dispose material in their vehicle’s ashtray, according to Gregg Bach a spokesman for Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department.

Bach recommends that residents living near the borders of City of Phoenix’s parks and preserves should remove any dried brush, shrubs, weeds, grass or trees surrounding their property.

Pictured: The area on the Maricopa Trail where the abandoned fire was located near the Andy Kunasek Trailhead in New River. Daisy Mountain Fire and Medical called it a close call because there were winds and dry brush located near the fire.
Pictured: The area on the Maricopa Trail where the abandoned fire was located near the Andy Kunasek Trailhead in New River. Daisy Mountain Fire and Medical called it a close call because there were winds and dry brush located near the fire.

“By creating this 10-foot ‘buffer zone,’ residents can help to protect their homes from brush fires in the adjacent preserve,” Bach said. “Preserve neighbors also should check irrigation lines and pool back-flush hoses to ensure that water is not seeping into the preserve.”

And indeed, there already has been some close calls with brush fires over the last few weeks in New River and Prescott, exemplifying the need for rural residents to create a defensible buffer zone in case of a fire.

Last week Daisy Mountain Fire and Medical (DMFM) units were dispatched to a campfire that had not been properly extinguished along the Maricopa Trail about two miles east of the Andy Kunasek Trailhead in New River.

The area was remote, so DMFM firefighters could only get the truck less than a mile to the fire’s location. Crews extinguished the remaining of the fire by hiking out to the locations with bladder bags and hand tools.

“The fire was in a very bad area, and we were fortunate that we did not have a significant wildfire as a result of it,” DMFM’s Public Information Officer Brent Fenton said.

He believes the fire was probably left by a transient and not a camper.

“There was very thick, dry dead brush within inches of the fire to the north, with a significant wind coming out of the south. Just north of where the fire was, is thousands of homes off of Circle Mountain Road,” Fenton said.  “Fortunately, a vigilant hiker located the fire and called 911 and avoided a potentially catastrophic event.”

DMFM is cautioning residents in the area to not have a fire for any reason due to strong fire conditions.

“We recommend at minimum, a 30-feet clearing surrounding any structure and making sure that there is no debris piles or wood piles next to the home,” Fenton explained. “Ideally, clearing 100-feet around your home or property is the best for protection from the effects of wildfires.”

On May 5, about three acres of ponderosa pine and chaparral forest burned approximately seven mile south of Prescott near Mount Tritle.  The fire was extinguished by the Prescott National Forest Engines, the Prescott Hotshots, a Type 3 Helicopter, Groom Creek Fire Department and the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office direction traffic.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

A date for when the City of Phoenix and Maricopa County will lift the fire ban has not been announced yet.  Also, residents should expect National Forests to announce fire restrictions and bans in the upcoming weeks.

These are the Maricopa County parks affected by the fire ban:

  • Adobe Dam Regional Park
  • Buckeye Hills Regional Park
  • Cave Creek Regional Park
  • Estrella Mountain Regional Park
  • Hasssayampa River Preserve
  • Lake Pleasant Regional Park
  • McDowell Mountain Regional Park
  • San Tan Mountain Regional Park
  • Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area
  • Usery Mountain Regional Park
  • Vulture Mountains Recreation Area
  • White Tank Mountain Regional Park

These are the City of Phoenix parks and preserves affected by the fire ban:

  • Camelback Mountain
  • Deems Hills Recreation Area
  • Papago Park
  • Phoenix Mountains Park and Recreation Area
  • Phoenix Mountains Preserve
  • Phoenix Sonoran Preserve
  • North Mountain Park
  • Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area
  • South Mountain Park/Preserve.
  • The ban does not apply to traditional city parks

If you have any questions regarding the fire ban, call the Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department at 602-506-2930, or visit maricopacountyparks.net. For general information regarding removing vegetation, residents can contact a Phoenix Park Ranger at 602-495-5458 or email: natural.resources.pks@phoenix.gov.