Wildfire worries complicated by lack of escape routes
Wildfire risk already high in Hualapai Mountains; fireworks banned for now
KINGMAN - The Mohave County Board of Supervisors decided to hold on to their authority to shut down the Boy Scout Camp Levi Levi due to wildfire danger rather than give staff the authority to shut the camp down in an emergency.
County staff asked the Board to consider giving County Emergency Management Director Byron Steward the authority to close the Boy Scout Camp Levi Levi when the Bureau of Land Management determines that the risk of a wildfire in the Hualapai Mountains is "very high" or higher.
Typically, county staff has to get permission from the Board in order to close county parks.
"We've been looking at doing something like this for many years. There is only one road in and out of the camp and it's not always in good shape. In an extreme fire situation people could find themselves trapped," Steward said. The camp is used nearly every weekend through June.
Flag Mine Road does offer a second avenue out, but it's not an ideal emergency exit, Steward said. The road is not maintained and is only passable by four-wheel drive or on foot.
There is also a helicopter-landing zone that can accommodate a small helicopter, such as the ones used by the Arizona Department of Public Safety, that can carry a few people at a time off the mountain, he said. But the landing zone isn't big enough to accommodate a larger helicopter, such as an Army Black Hawk, that would be necessary for a large group of campers.
There are areas of hard rock where campers could escape a fire, but they would not be able to escape the smoke or heat, he said.
The risk of a wildfire in the area is already pretty high, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and some restrictions have already been put in place on federal and state lands, he said. There is also talk that the BLM will move to prohibit all fires on federal land sometime this week.
"We'd like to get this done today," Steward said.
District 5 Supervisor Steven Moss was reluctant to deny the Boy Scouts access to one of the more enjoyable activities of the summer.
"They're a pretty careful group," he said. "How long has the camp been in this fire condition?"
"It varies from year to year, but this year it's been about two weeks," Steward said. "We monitor it on a day to day basis."
Steward said he would have closed the camp two weeks ago, but the scouts had their main summer camp last weekend.
"They're a very safety conscious group. We were monitoring the weather forecasts. Dry lightning starts most of the fires on Hualapai Mountain. If there was any indication of that in the forecast, we would have closed the camp immediately," Steward said.
If the county depends on the BLM to determine fire restriction levels for the last several years, then why not wait until the levels are extreme to close the camp, Moss asked.
The BLM and National Forest Service sometimes wait too long to call for restrictions, Steward said. Last year, the county had fire restrictions in place for Hualapai Mountain Park before the BLM called for them.
He would be more comfortable setting the cutoff point at a higher fire danger level if the camp had more evacuation routes, he said.
"I don't want to deny the use of the camp to the Boy Scouts when there hasn't been a problem for many years," Moss said.
Moss' motion to close the camp only when BLM fire levels prohibit the use of outdoor fires of any kind failed for lack of second.
Since none of the other supervisors made a motion, staff will have to bring their requests to close the camp to the Board for approval.
The Board also approved a request from Board Chairman Gary Watson to temporarily prohibit outdoor fires and fireworks in the unincorporated areas of the county starting at noon on Monday.
The Board also authorized Chairman Gary Watson to sign letters protesting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's plan to close some grazing allotments in the Arizona Strip area and asking the federal government to turn over all federal lands to the state, as was promised when Arizona became a state.