By District 3 Councilwoman Debra Stark
The Phoenix Parks and Recreation Board recently approved adjusting hours for trails on Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak when the National Weather Service issues an Excessive Heat Watch. On those days, access to Camelback and Piestewa trails will be closed from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the duration of the pilot program until September 30.
This move is reasonable and prioritizes safety for the public and our first responders. No doubt, our Phoenix Mountain Preserves are beautiful and one of our city’s best assets. But when we experience extreme temperatures, it can be downright dangerous for anyone to be on the trails. The heat can affect even experienced hikers and firefighters skilled in tactical rescues.
Firefighters are called to rescue people off mountains not only because of heat-related illness, but also for broken ankles, bee attacks, for someone off trail, and more. Regardless of the reason for the rescue, our firefighters are still ascending those mountains wearing 40 pounds of gear, on challenging terrain, and in extreme temperatures.
It is troubling that on June 16, when temperatures reached 116 degrees, 12 of our firefighters had to be sent home after experiencing heat-related illness, and two firefighters were hospitalized with acute renal failure after performing multiple mountain rescues.
According to the Phoenix Fire Department, most mountain rescues are performed on Camelback and Piestewa—some of the most vertical and difficult terrain in Phoenix. Posting warning signs is not enough. Some have asked why we don’t simply notify the public that help won’t be available if one chooses to hike at their own risk. This is contrary to the mission our first responders uphold daily. Our firefighters will always respond when called for help—but performing these rescues puts them in unnecessary danger.
Additionally, these rescues are costly and taxing on our resources considering the number of firefighters required, the time it takes, and the amount of equipment needed to perform the task. During a recent Parks and Recreation Board meeting, the Phoenix Fire Department presented that a rescue may cost about $7,000 and about $12,000 when a helicopter is needed.
This is not a full closure of Camelback and Piestewa trails—this pilot program simply adjusts the hours on these two mountains to help protect our residents, visitors and firefighters.
Those who do wish to enjoy our beautiful trails—any time of the year—should follow common-sense hiking guidelines such as being aware of the temperature, dressing appropriately, wearing proper shoes, applying sunscreen, carrying a fully charged mobile phone, letting someone know when you plan to finish your hike, and staying on trails. For more information, visit phoenix.gov/parks.