The Phoenix City Council voted Aug. 31 to extend excessive heat warning closures year-round – and earlier in the day – on certain hiking trails.
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The policy previously only applied May through September, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., when the National Weather Service issued excessive heat warnings.
The new city policy extends the closures to be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. year-round if a heat warning is issued. It applies to Echo Canyon and Cholla trails at Camelback Mountain and all trails at Piestewa Peak and Phoenix Mountains Preserve.
Jes Dobbs, director and designer of Camelback Culture and a morning hiker, said the city needs to instead focus on educating hikers who aren’t familiar with Arizona trails.
“I always give this example: If you went to Alaska in a blizzard, you wouldn’t just haul off and start hiking without a lot of gear and a lot of preparation and a lot of research. But people come here and they’re like, ‘Well, I can throw on shoes and shorts. And I can just head out.’ It’s not, it’s a blizzard of heat,” Dobbs said.
The change, recommended by the Phoenix Fire Department, aims to protect hikers and firefighters. Bryan Willingham, president of United Phoenix Firefighters Local 493, spoke during the city council meeting about the impact heat rescues can have on firefighters.
“When firefighters are searching for somebody for hours on end and they’re not able to find them, and only at the time when they do, they’ve passed away, that sets in a whole ‘nother sequence of problems, not just Rhabdomyolysis, and not just injuries that can literally destroy a firefighter’s career, they have emotional trauma,” Willingham said.
City staff told the council that nearly 50 rescues happened this summer at Camelback and Piestewa Peak.