Bush Fire closure order lifted after 7 months

Payson Roundup (February 9, 2021) by Michele Nelson

Call it a silver lining, the lack of a monsoon and little winter precipitation has given the Forest Service the confidence to open up the Four Peaks recreation area less than a year after the Bush Fire.

The Arizona Trail Association has already spread the news on its website. As of Feb. 5, the Forest Service will lift the closure that shut down passages 20 and 21.

Those passages represent 5% of the 800-mile-long trail that runs from Arizona’s border with Mexico to its border with Utah. The Rim Country hosts about 20% of the National Scenic Trail, from the base of Roosevelt Lake to the Mogollon Rim at Washington Park.

The Bush Fire burned almost 200,000 acres of the Four Peaks recreation area between the Bush Highway near Phoenix and Tonto Basin near Roosevelt Lake.

After the fire, the Forest Service Burned Area Emergency Response team conducted tests to monitor the conditions. After an intense wildfire like the Bush Fire, the BAER team calculates the risk for mudflows as a result of exposed dirt on steep hillsides. The BAER team found the risk too great to the public, so it closed the area to all recreation.

But the monsoon never arrived, and the dry conditions did not stimulate plant life, so the post fire conditions remained until the recent winter storms.

That precipitation has “lessened the risk,” according the Forest Service, in a press release, but they cautioned the public to be aware of the weather and conditions while in Four Peaks.

In particular, areas downstream of burn scars have more of a chance of flooding during rainstorms. Without vegetation, runoff quickly intensifies on steep slopes, increasing the risk of floods.

The ATA website also cautions its hikers to watch for “falling trees, sloughing hillsides, unstable soils, debris traveling downhill, and the possibility of flash floods during storms.”

They ask hikers, especially through hikers, to consider “postponing your adventure or taking a zero day,” if rain is in the forecast “especially within Four Peaks Wilderness of Passage 20 and the Boulder Canyon area of Passage 21,” writes the ATA.

The ATA partnered with the Tonto National Forest to repair the two passages. The Forest Service found the funds for the ATA to do emergency stabilization work on the trail. The Forest Service then trusted “the ATA with trail condition assessments within the burn zone.”

The ATA reports it will have to continue routine maintenance on the trail throughout the Bush Fire scar for many years into the future.