Fire safety is essential to preserving the beauty of Arizona’s natural lands, which are especially vulnerable to wildfires. According to the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management (ADFFM), nearly 1 million acres burned during the 2020 wildfire season.
Although peak fire season in Arizona starts with hot, dry weather in May and runs through the arrival of monsoons and humidity in July, fires can occur year-round—meaning, to enjoy Arizona’s wilderness areas, vigilance is required year-round too.
First: Heed the Signs, Learn the Regulations
Take a few minutes to “know before you go.” This can range from checking local weather reports for high temperatures to researching up-to-date fire restrictions in the area to which you’ll be traveling.
Fire regulations. State and federal agencies do their best to publicize current fire regulations, so check the latest conditions before you venture outdoors.
Fire restriction stages. The ADFFM implements three stages of fire restrictions. At Stage I, campfires and charcoal grills are prohibited except within developed sites. At Stage II, fires are not allowed even in developed campgrounds or picnic areas. Closure, or the third stage, means no public access until restrictions are rescinded.
Fire danger signage. As you enter various regions in the state or pass by a ranger station, you’ll see a large, multicolored sign that indicates the fire danger level, from low to extreme. Pay attention to the signage.
Red flag warnings. The National Weather Service announces increased risk of fire danger due to warm temperatures, low humidity and high winds. Monitor your local weather reports, or look for a red flag displayed at rural fire stations.
Next: Practice Campfire Caution
Sitting around a crackling campfire has long epitomized time spent in the outdoors. A safe and responsible campfire starts with these tips.
Use a fire pit or fire ring. In a developed campground, this is the only place you should build a fire. If you need to dig your own in an area where fires are allowed, keep at least 10 feet away from branches, power lines or anything else that could catch on fire, and surround the pit with rocks.
Start small. Never use lighter fluid, gas or other flammable liquids to ignite a fire. Start your fire with dried leaves or grass and small twigs before adding larger pieces of wood—and make sure the match is extinguished or tossed into the fire.
Think defensively. Keep a bucket of water and shovel handy, and pay attention to gusty winds that can send sparks flying. Store additional firewood safely away from the fire. Above all, never leave a campfire unattended; even if you’re going for a quick hike, extinguish the fire completely.
Douse and stir. When it’s time to head out, the rule of thumb is that if a fire is too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave. Douse the fire with water, stir it with a shovel and repeat until everything is soaked thoroughly.
Use propane instead. Propane fire pits and stoves are permissible at national and state parks, as well as at Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas. In addition to being safer and eliminating cleanup, they can be used when fire restrictions do not allow open fires.
Buy local firewood. Bringing wood from home may sound convenient, but it can also transport invasive insects that cause diseases in trees. Purchase wood from the campground or a nearby store to help ensure the health of the local forest.
Finally: Play Safe
Out-of-control campfires aren’t the only cause of wildfires. When conditions are right, a single spark from any source can start a blaze that spreads quickly. As you embark on your Arizona outdoor adventure, consider the following fire safety suggestions
Watch where you park. Never park a vehicle where dry vegetation could touch the undercarriage and ignite. This was the cause of Arizona’s Bush Fire, which burned nearly 200,000 acres in the Tonto National Forest.
Stop the spark. Use and maintain spark arresters on motorized equipment such as chain saws and ATVs. When towing a trailer or RV, check that you are not dragging any chains, a frequent cause of fires.
Leave fireworks and explosives at home. Both are prohibited on public lands in Arizona year-round.
Bring a reflector for hiking. Distress fires are another common wildfire cause, so a reflector is a much safer way to signal for help.
Jake Poinier is a veteran freelance writer, editor, and author whose work has appeared in USAToday, Blue Water Sailing, and Golf Illustrated, among numerous other publications. When he's not at his desk writing for corporate clients and editing books, he can probably be found hiking or fishing along the Mogollon Rim, skiing in the White Mountains, or sailing just about anywhere.