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'Extreme' fire danger forces Arizona to close state lands

State-owned and managed lands across Arizona will be closed Friday due to "extremely high" fire danger, officials said. 

"Due to extremely high fire danger, exceptional drought conditions, resource availability, and increased fire activity," officials said they would close all state-owned and managed lands for recreation, including limiting access for hunting, camping, and off-road vehicle use, said Tiffany Davila, spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management. 

The department works to prevent and fight wildfires on the 22 million acres of state trust lands across Arizona.

The closure will begin at 8 a.m. on Friday morning, Davila said. This affects all state land across all the state's 15 counties. State parks will remain open, but will have fire restrictions in place, Davila said. Target shooting and fireworks remain prohibited year-round, she said.

The department said that the closures will continue even as rain has arrived in some parts of the state Wednesday afternoon. "Yes, we received rain today, but unfortunately it's not enough. Once it heats back up and dries out our fire activity will once again increase," the agency said. 

The restrictions include a "full shutdown" of all operations on state land, however, the new rule includes a carve-out for mineral soil operations, who can continue road excavations with special permission. However, a contractor must provide fire guard operations for three hours after shutdown, Davila said. 

Similarly, the state will allow grazing-permit holders to enter state land to gather, move or otherwise manage livestock, she said. Resident owners and lessees can also access land, Davila said.  

Along with Arizona state officials, the U.S. Forest Service is also announcing closures. However, the Coronado National Forest, which surrounds Tucson and extends into Cochise County, currently remains open with some fire restrictions. 

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The announcement comes as more than two dozen fires have burned across Arizona this summer, including the Walnut Fire in Cochise County which has consumed more than 8,500 acres, the Telegraph Fire in central Arizona that has consumed 180,000 acres in the Tonto National Forest, and the Backbone Fire near Sedona, which has burned 38,000 acres. 

Earlier this week, Forest Service officials closed the Tonto National Forest, as well as the Coconino  and Kaibab national forests because of fire danger. The Apache-Sitgreaves national forests will close Thursday, and access to the forest near Prescott will also close Friday at 8 a.m. 

According to the National Interagency Coordination Center there are 112 fires that have required some personnel. Of those 39 are considered "uncontained," officials said. Another 11 fires are being allowed to burn, officials said. This includes the Walnut Fire, which forced the closure of Interstate 10 for several hours on Tuesday. 

So far, more than 628,000 acres have burned, and officials have committed more than 9,000 people, as well as 109 helicopters and more than 500 engines to quench fires across the drought-stricken west. This includes nearly 316,000 acres in Arizona alone. 

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The Walnut Fire in Cochise County on Wednesday.

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