If you’re in Arizona and thinking of getting away to a national forest for some camping, fishing, or relaxation in the coming days, you need to make some different plans.
U.S. Forest Service officials have closed four of the forests due to dry conditions, ongoing wildfires, and lack of manpower. Coconino National Forest, Kaibab National Forest, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, and Prescott National Forest have all been closed, and additional federal and state lands may be next.
As of Tuesday, there were at least 25 wildfires burning in the state.
The closures mean all public recreation, including camping and hiking, within the boundaries of the forests is prohibited. It also keeps vendors who work inside the forests, partner agencies, permit holders, and others from entering.
Forest Service officials are working their way through the regions in an attempt to locate any campers or hikers who may still be within the boundaries.
When the national forests may reopen remains unclear.
“Though parts of the national forest may receive rain from sporadic storms over the next couple of weeks, this closure will not be rescinded until sufficient precipitation is received to adequately reduce the risk of wildfire, and hot, dry weather conditions are no longer forecast to continue,” the Forest Service said in a release. “In short, this closure will continue until conditions are such that the closure can be lifted.”
Violating closures and fire restrictions is a federal crime, punishable with a fine of up to $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization, or up to six months in jail.
Officials understand the closures will create an inconvenience for campers and hikers looking to get some outdoor adventure.
“We know the public wants to get outside,” Tiffany Davila, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Forestry and Fire Management told the Associated Press. “But it comes down to public and firefighter safety, and making sure we can get people to the next incident, if and when it occurs.”
They also knew this was going to be a difficult year, issuing warnings in March about the already dry conditions.
“It won’t take much to get ignition source going and get that fired up and spread across the landscape,” Department of Forestry Fire Management Officer John Truett told the Arizona Republic in March.