By Nick Worth
The 2013 fire season has already begun and the White Mountain Fire Restrictions Coordinating Group (WMFRCG) wants to get the word out about the new fire restriction procedures that will be in effect for the unincorporated areas of the county and the White Mountains area.
According to Catrina Roe, executive secretary to the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors and a member of the coordinating group, the WMFRCG is a partnership of Navajo County, Apache County, the White Mountain Apache Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, the State Land Department, local cities and towns, and the federal government, in the form of the U.S. Forest Service.
“This is a unique partnership,” said Roe. “As far as we know, this is the only committee in the state that includes representatives from the federal government, the state and three tribes, as well as the counties, cities and towns.”
Roe said the group was formed to coordinate the setting of outdoor fire restrictions in an effort to make them less confusing for area residents.
She noted that Navajo County came up with an outdoor fire ordinance that is more in line with the other partners in the group.
“There are stages of fire restrictions escalating to full closure, when the need arises,” Roe said. She explained that the determination of the fire restriction level will be made based on information from the Forest Service that takes into account the energy release component (the condition of ground fuels), plus weather conditions, including such factors as humidity and wind.
The restrictions will be determined in cooperation with the partners in the group by Navajo County Emergency Manager Mary Springer and Director of Emergency Management Dan Hinz.
Once the restriction order has been given, the county will also stop issuing burn permits. Hinz and Springer will be responsible for notifying residents and visitors of the fire restrictions in place, and also have the authority to modify or lift the restrictions as conditions warrant.
Roe said each county, city and town will have to pass its own ordinances and will make the determination locally whether to use the same level of restriction as the county.
“We will not be telling any city or town what restrictions to use,” Roe said.
“Apache County is going before their Board of Supervisors on May 21 to present their outdoor fire ordinance that is similar to ours,” Roe said.
The Navajo County Board of Supervisors adopted the new Outdoor Fire Ordinance April 23.
At that time, Kirk Webb, fire marshal for the Lakeside Fire Department, told the board the ordinance was needed to eliminate confusion.
“I have a Forest Service campground in the middle of my town,” Webb said. He explained that in the past, he would have to tell residents to put out their outdoor fires, while campfires were still allowed in the campground.
Roe said the Navajo County Ordinance closely mirrored the Forest Service regulations, and that ordinances of the cities and towns would most likely mirror Navajo County’s ordinance.
“So, when we reach the appropriate conditions, we can all act in accord with one another to eliminate confusion for the citizens,” Roe said.
She said the Northeastern Arizona Fire Chiefs Association has signed off on the measure, as well as local law enforcement agencies and the Navajo County Attorney’s Office.
Included in the new ordinance are some tougher provisions for enforcement.
According to the ordinance, any peace officer, firefighter and any uniformed USFS officer within their jurisdiction can enforce the ordinance restrictions. Those who disobey an order to put out a fire will be subject to penalties under the law.
For a first offense, fines can range anywhere from $100 to $750, “plus surcharges, fees and court costs, plus restitution for any medical treatment required, reimbursement for emergency response personnel and equipment, and any property damage or other economic loss suffered by any person as a result of such violation.”
For a second offense, the fine is raised from $250 to $750 for each violation or count, in addition to the fees listed above.
Roe said Apache-Sitgreaves Forest Supervisor Jim Zornes and Forest Service Forest Fire Management Supervisor Mark Empey were instrumental in helping the coordinating group.
“They and the state have been very supportive of the effort,” Roe said.
She noted that the ordinances have come at the right time, as fire season is already underway.
“We have had eight small fires started this past weekend due to campfires not being extinguished,” she said. “A good rule to remember is if it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.”
More information on current fire restrictions can be found on the Navajo County website at www.navajocountyaz.gov, www.593info.org or the Forest Service website at www.firerestrictions.us/az.
By Nick Worth