We believe it’s time for the U.S. Forest Service to significantly reduce the risk of a catastrophic wildfire in Flagstaff by acting proactively and closing the Coconino National Forest. We do not make this suggestion lightly. We recognize that many (including all of us) recreate in the forest and that recreating in the forest has taken on new meaning during the pandemic.
But when we balance the risk of a catastrophic wildfire with the reward of being able to enjoy the forest now, we come out on the side of closing the forest before, rather than during and after, a catastrophic wildfire. People’s lives and property come first. Recreation comes second.
We’re in the middle of a very dry June, with many Red Flag days. Although all six national forests in Arizona enacted campfire bans earlier in the season in response to the forecast of very dry conditions, four of those six forests now have fierce wildfires. According to the Daily Sun, there were over 30 illegal fires over the Memorial Day weekend in the Coconino National Forest. (We think that the actual number of illegal fires was probably higher.) Currently, fire start prediction metrics are increasing across Arizona, with the Flagstaff Station nearing maximum dryness or rate of fire spread. State fire officials are saying this is going to be one of the most challenging fire seasons we’ve had because of the need to incorporate the CDC’s COVID-19 protocols into how fires are fought.
We fully acknowledge that these are very trying times for everyone. There’s a lot going on. In this context, we find it upsetting to think about how we would all deal with a large forest fire, an evacuation order, and post fire flooding. We urge the Forest Service to put the safety of the public and firefighters and the health of the forest first by closing the forest. There’s too much at stake to do otherwise.