The Parks and Recreation Department of Phoenix is aiming to keep South Mountain safe with its annual fire ban and hiking tips.

The ban, which started on May 10, forbids open flames, wood fires or charcoal at mountain or desert preserves and parks, said Scott Covey, a park ranger for 20 years. Only propane can be used on park grills.

Smoking outside of a car is also prohibited, Covey said.

“That’s one we have to constantly remind people of, especially at our overlooks,” he added.

Covey said that on South Mountain, since people can drive to the top with no fitness involved, there are more smokers. Rangers are reminding them to keep their cigarettes in car ashtrays.

The ban does not apply to traditional city parks, Covey said. Only mountain parks like South Mountain are affected.

The ban began in 2000, and has since been enacted every summer when conditions dry out and rangers get concerned about the public using parks.

“The last two years, we’ve been pretty fortunate,” Covey said. “We’re hoping to stay on that track.”

The last large fire in South Mountain was in 2006. A vehicle ran off the road and caught on fire, burning 1,500 acres in the park, Covey said. The department is still re-vegetating the area.

“You can still see the damage to this day,” he said.

The department hopes to avoid a similar event in the future with its ban and the public’s help.

The city is asking those who live near the mountain reserve to “go that extra mile” and remove dead or dry vegetation within 10 feet of their property, Covey said, especially since it was such a wet winter. Living native plants, however, can’t be removed.

Covey noted that people shouldn’t back-flush water from their pools into the reserves, since it creates more vegetation that dries out later.

“That’s just creating extra work for them,” he said, since they will then have to remove the dead brush.

Fires on South Mountain aren’t the only things that pose a threat to residents. There is no agency in the U.S. that goes on as many mountain rescues as the Phoenix Fire Department, according to its website. An average of two to three people dies each year because of unsafe hiking.

Covey recommended that hikers hydrate as much as possible before hiking, take water on the hike, and hydrate afterwards. Hikers should also let someone know where they’re going beforehand and not overextend their abilities.

Hikers should also try to avoid the peak hours of sun, Covey said. The trails on South Mountain tend to be popular in the early morning and late evening during the summer.

“If you’re having trouble during the heat of the day, you’re not going to run into as many people who are able to give you extra water or call someone for you,” he said.

The South Mountain Park/Preserve is open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., though gated parking areas close at 7 p.m.


Jolie McCullough is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a senior at Arizona State University.

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