By Richard Urban / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ
As the Memorial Day weekend approaches and Arizonans make plans to get outdoors, the state Department of Forestry and Fire Management has issued additional fire restrictions for state lands in Pinal County and the state. The federal Bureau of Land Management also imposed similar restrictions on Arizona’s national parks.
Both agencies issued State 2 restrictions on May 25 that prohibit campfires and smoking and restrict firearms discharges to lawful hunting. Both prohibit fireworks and tracer ammunition year-round. If Stage 3 restrictions are instituted, parks and forests will be closed to the public.
The National Weather Service predicts that in June most of the state will be at significant risk of wildfires as drought prevails throughout the state, and restrictions are expected to remain in place until monsoon rains start reducing wildfire risks in mid-June through September.
Pinal has large tracts of land where no fire departments of fire districts operate. The county, which does provide fire protection services, also does not own a lot of land “just because there isn't a lot of it that isn’t private,” Pinal County Emergency Manager Chuck Kmet said.
The county’s role is to manage a notification system and support local fire departments with additional resources.
“We're ready to support those public safety agencies, in particular the fire departments, when something does happen, if something does happen, whether it's supporting them or also helping to provide public warning, public messaging, using our mass notification system to get the word out if there has to be an evacuation, or if there’s the potential for evacuations,” Kmet said.
The county also can muster Public Works Department water trucks if available. He said in some cases they can haul three or four times the volume of water that a typical fire tanker truck carries.
The county coordinates with Red Cross Society to help people find shelter if they have been evacuated or have lost their homes.
Community Emergency Response Teams arrive in trucks to set up cooling tents where firefighters can take a break and get food and water.
“There's four teams right now in the county,” Kmet said. “These are normal, everyday citizens that have gone through some level of specialized training and are attached to one of these teams. They're not fire people. They're not public safety people. They wanted to give back to their community.”
Kmet, a former firefighter who has been with Pinal County for eight years, said that people should continue to get out and enjoy the Arizona desert but exercise caution.
“Just be responsible, whether you're wanting to have a campsite or you're out on an ATV. Make sure that your vehicle’s in working order and that you're not throwing sparks and all these little things that turn into these massive, massive fires,” he said. “Pay attention to public safety officials when there is a potential of a wildfire in the area so that way, you don't put yourself in harm's way.”
And, he said, heed the advice of Smokey the Bear: “Only you can prevent forest fires.”
“It’s the simplest thing. It really only takes one spark to turn something into something absolutely devastating.”