Most of Arizona's national forests will impose fire restrictions for the Memorial Day weekend as the state enters the long, dry period before monsoon moisture arrives in early July and the potential for wildfires increases.
The Stage 1 restrictions allow for charcoal and wood fires only at developed campgrounds.
In Southeastern Arizona, where predictions are for a volatile fire season, federal and state land managers coordinated a move to Stage 1 fire restrictions beginning Wednesday at 8 a.m.
The move came as wind and single-digit humidity created red-flag conditions for crews battling a 2,500-acre fire in the Patagonia Mountains.
More than 200 firefighters worked to contain the Soldier Basin Fire to the ridges of the mountain range.
The fire is not currently threatening any structures, and the goal is to keep it well south of Flux Canyon and west of Harshaw Road, where the nearest homes are, said fire spokeswoman Michelle Fidler.
The fire, which started Friday, is burning through grass, shrub, oak and mesquite in rugged ridges and canyons midway between Nogales and Patagonia.
Crews are clearing fire lines in preparation for burnouts in the coming days. The team also plans to ignite fires on the ridge lines, allowing them to creep downhill under favorable conditions, Fidler said.
More smoke and flames will be visible, and the fire will grow as a result of the efforts to contain it, she said.
The Coronado National Forest, which manages the area where the fire is burning, urged visitors to its Sky Island forests to be extremely careful with smoking and campfires as the busy Memorial Day weekend approaches. The Coronado includes heavily visited campsites in the Santa Catalina, Chiricahua and Pinaleño mountains.
Its announcement of fire restrictions was joined by the Gila District of the Bureau of Land Management, Saguaro National Park, Coronado National Memorial, Chiricahua National Monument, Fort Bowie National Historic Site, Tumacacori National Historical Park, and the Arizona State Forestry Division.
In Central and Northern Arizona, the Tonto, Prescott, Kaibab and Coconino national forests announced Stage 1 fire restrictions beginning Wednesday.
Similar restrictions apply to the mostly lower elevation land managed throughout Arizona by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
The Soldier Basin Fire, the 20th fire to break out in the Coronado National Forest this year and the largest by far, is assumed to be human-caused. There was no lightning in the area, Fidler said.
Forest managers across the state said they are still finding smoldering campfires and want the message about putting them out reinforced.
"Never leave a campfire unattended for any reason, for any purpose, for any amount of time," said Heidi Schewel, spokeswoman for the Coronado National Forest.
"A lot of folks think a little dirt or water is going to take care of it. Make sure it's cold to the touch," she said.
The National Weather Service in Tucson said hot, dry and windy conditions will persist through the weekend.
Stage 1 fire restrictions prohibit:
• Building, maintaining, attending, or using a fire, campfire, charcoal, coal, or wood stove other than in a developed campsite or picnic area where grills are provided.
• Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site/improved site or while stopped in an area at least 3 feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials.
Fireworks are prohibited year-round on federal lands.
Restrictions for all Arizona forests are listed online at: firerestrictions.us/AZ
Contact reporter Tom Beal at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4158.