After a longed-for storm dumped rain across the state, many National Forests lifted fire restrictions — weeks after the fire season normally ends.

Fire Restrictions lifted

The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests (ASNFs) and other Arizona National Forests have coordinated with federal, state, and local partners and terminated the Stage 1 Fire Restrictions effectively Nov. 10, 2020, at 8 AM.

The storm dampened unseasonably dry fuels throughout the state, reducing the risk of a dangerous fire with most of the nation’s firefighting resources still tied down in California and other western states.

Fire restrictions remain in place on the Tonto National Forest, with the lower-elevation areas receiving little rain.

However, the Apache Sitgreaves, Coconino and others have lifted their restrictions.

“The onset of late fall/early winter has brought moisture, lower temperatures and higher relative humidity,” said Gary Strickland, the forest fire management officer for the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest.

Visitors in the upper elevation forests can now have campfires and smoke in the forest, although rangers urged everyone to continue to follow safety procedures. Anyone who abandons a campfire that’s not dead out still remains subject to arrest and a steep fine as well as the cost of putting out any fire that results.

Payson got a smattering of rain and Pine got some snow in a series of storms over the weekend. However, the skies quickly cleared and temperatures rose into the 70s through the rest of the week — with no rain in the forecast.

The 10-day forecast for Show Low holds no hint of more rain or snow, with highs in the 60s and lows in the 30s.

The long-range forecast still calls for a dry, warm winter in Arizona, thanks to the La Nina sea-surface cooling pattern that has set up in the Eastern Pacific.

Almost all of Arizona remains in “extreme” drought, with a portion of Southern Gila County and much of Pinal County in “exceptional” drought.

Extreme drought promises a bleak ski season, not much snow pack, continued fire danger, stress on livestock and native plants and conditions that drive wildlife like elk and deer to move into residential areas in search of food and water.

“With La Nina well established and expected to persist through the upcoming 2020 winter season, we anticipate the typical, cooler, wetter North, and warmer, drier South, as the most likely outcome of winter weather that the U.S. will experience this year,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

California and other western states continue to battle the worst fire season on record.

This week, 4,100 firefighters in California continued to battle 22 major wildfires — and in a single day managed to snuff out no fewer than 23 additional fire starts.

The start of cooler weather and higher humidity held out hope of bringing the nightmarish fire season to a close. Fires have killed 31 people, consumed 11,000 structures and charred more than 4 million acres in California alone.

Nationally, the 49,000 U.S. wildfires in 2020 have burned 8.6 million acres — nearly double the total for 2019 and a little worse than record-breaking 2018.

In Arizona, the heavy investment in reservoirs has cushioned the impact of the severe drought.

Despite the near-failure of the summer monsoon, Arizona’s reservoirs remain in surprisingly good shape.

Roosevelt Lake remains 82 % full — compared to 66% a year ago. The Verde River reservoirs are down to 37% full.

The weekend storm did bolster the streams in the region, with the Salt River flowing at 68% of normal and the Verde River at 80% of normal. The Salt River was flowing at 165 cubic feet per second where it enters Roosevelt Lake.

Peter Aleshire covers county government and other topics for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach him at paleshire@payson.com

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