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Concern grows over unattended campfires

Posted at 5:26 PM, May 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-30 22:02:21-04
Camping is a common pastime for many people over three-day holiday weekends. Popular spots include the Tonto, Coconino and Coronado National Forests. However, forestry officials say - they have been burdened with abandoned campfires. 
 
On Sunday, more than 40 fires were left on the Coconino and last year, they had over 600 fires.
 
As for those in Tucson taking a 'closer-to-home' getaway, Mount Lemmon was also dealing with a slew of unattended campfires. 
 
Camp Post Philip Henderson with the Recreation Resource Management is always on high-alert while at work, but a holiday weekend definitely kept him busy.
 
"It doesn't take much to completely destroy the camping site; the wilderness," Henderson explained. 
 
He patrols campsites in a golf cart while looking for flames, smoke, embers - anything unattended that can spark up a dangerous wildfire. 
 
If there's nobody here, we don't take a chance," Henderson said. "We start grabbing buckets of water and we drown the fire." 
 
Henderson has had to do that a lot this weekend. He told KGUN9, he looks after 30 campsites and about 15 of those were being used from Sunday to Monday. He said about half of those had unattended campfires he had to take care of.
 
"I would say 1 in 5 fires is actually put out right," Henderson said. "The rest of them, people leave and fires are still going."
 
Not only are they unattended, but sometimes - people use dangerous tactics to get a bigger blaze. 
 
Many people are taking logs meant to be used for sitting and using them as firewood instead. Those massive logs are not meant to go into the pit, which makes the flames much higher, spreading embers more easily. 
 
Henderson said they have kicked several people out of the campgrounds. But, a spark could start before camp posts like Henderson catch it. So, he hopes campers take the extra time to be sure the forest is safe.