Fires… What to Know Before You Visit the National Forest

For many folks, one of the highlights of visiting the national forests is enjoying a peaceful evening in front of the campfire. Before you head to the woods, however, it's important to know if you can have a fire or not.

Visitors to the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests cannot have fires when the National Weather Service issues a Red Flag Warning or when the Forest Service issues fire restrictions. Typically, this is when hot, dry, and/or windy conditions are present in the forests—these conditions increase the risk of wildfires.

Many folks may not realize that the Red Flag Warning and fire restrictions are not the same thing. Here are some of the major differences between them: 

Red Flag vs. Fire Restrictions

Red Flag Warning
Fire Restrictions
  • Issued by the National Weather Service— The Red Flag Warning is issued by the NWS according to geographic areas.
  • No Stages— When the Red Flag Warning is issued, the prohibited activities are the same every time—namely, you cannot have any open flame fires (campfires and charcoal fires).
  • Shorter Duration— The NWS determines on a day-to-day basis if the Red Flag Warning needs to be issued and a specific timeframe it will be in effect.
  • Public and Private Lands— The Red Flag Warning applies to all public and private lands within the geographic area it is issued.
  • Issued by the Forest Service— Fire restrictions are issued by each national forest.
  • Varying Stages— There are three stages of fire restrictions which can be issued depending on the risk for wildfires. In general, the Forest Service issues more limiting fire restrictions when there is a higher risk for wildfires.
  • Longer Duration— Fire restrictions typically last over an extended period of time such as several weeks.
  • Public Land Only— Fire restrictions issued by a national forest apply only to those public lands within its jurisdiction.

Sometimes there are no fire restrictions on the national forests, but there is a Red Flag Warning in effect. In this scenario, folks would not be able to have a campfire or charcoal fire. The only scenario visitors can have fires without any prohibitions  is when there is no Red Flag Warning and no fire restrictions.  The following list can offer a better glimpse at what you can and cannot do during different fire scenarios.


If these Conditions…


No Red Flag Warning AND No Fire Restrictions

You CAN have a campfire, charcoal fire, and/or use a pressurized gas stove.

You CAN smoke outside of buildings and vehicles as long as you are in an area 3 feet in diameter cleared of burnable material.

Always exercise caution in having a fire: choose a location cleared of burnable material; wait to start a fire until strong winds have subsided; never leave a fire unattended; and make sure it is "dead out" before leaving your campsite. Drown it, Stir it, Feel it. 

Red Flag Warning

You CANNOT have campfires or charcoal fires.You CAN use a pressurized gas stove with an on/off switch. 

You CANNOT smoke except within enclosed buildings and vehicles.

You CANNOT use a vehicle off roads or trails.

You CANNOT drive a vehicle without an approved spark arresting device.

You CANNOT operate an internal combustion engine (unless the equipment has an approved spark arresting device AND is in an area completely devoid of vegetation) i.e. chainsaws, generators, hot saws, skidders, and other recreational or industrial equipment.

You CANNOT weld, or operate an acetylene or other torch with an open flame.

Stage I Fire Restrictions

You CANNOT have campfires or charcoal fires except in designated developed campgrounds. 

You CAN use a pressurized gas stove with an on/off switch. 

You CANNOT smoke except within enclosed buildings and vehicles.

You CANNOT weld, or operate an acetylene or other torch with an open flame.

Stage II Fire Restrictions

Same as Stage I Fire Restrictions. Additionally, Stage II Fire Restrictions prohibit other activities which may include (but are not limited to) the following:

You CANNOT have campfires or charcoal fires anywhere on the Forest. 

You CANNOT operate or use any internal combustion engines, this includes chainsaws. Generators are allowed as long as they have an approved spark arresting device and are used within an enclosed vehicle or building or in an area that is completely cleared of all overhead and surrounding flammable materials within three feet of the generator. 

You CANNOT discharge a firearm, except while engaged in a lawful hunt pursuant to state, federal, or tribal laws and regulations or in an agency designated shooting range.  

You CANNOT possess or use a motor vehicle off Forest System Roads.

Always check with the local Forest Service office for specific prohibited activities during Stage II Fire Restrictions.

Stage III Fire Restrictions

You CANNOT enter, stay, or use any portion of the national forest that is closed.

Red Flag Warning AND No Fire Restrictions

Same as Red Flag Warning.

Red Flag Warning AND Fire Restrictions

Same as Red Flag Warning. Additionally, forest visitors must also follow prohibitions as outlined in the specific fire restrictions stage.

For More Information…

To find out if a Red Flag Warning is in effect, visit the National Weather Service website at  


Fireworks, explosives, tannerite and tracer rounds are always prohibited on national forests. Violations of these restrictions are punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for organizations or imprisonment for up to six months, or both.!ut/p/z1/04_Sj9CPykssy0xPLMnMz0vMAfIjo8zijQwgwNHCwN_DI8zPyBcqYKAfjlVBmA9cQRQx-g1wAEci9eNREIXf-HD9KKxWIPuAkBle-lHpOflJkOByzEsytkjXjypKTUstSi3SKy0CCmeUlBQUW6kaqBqUl5frpefnp-ek6iXn56oaYNOSkV9coh-BqlK_IDc0NMIgyzSnzMcRAIRE-zk!/dz/d5/L2dBISEvZ0FBIS9nQSEh/?position=Feature&navtype=BROWSEBYSUBJECT&ss=110301&navid=091000000000000&cid=STELPRDB5300019