AP NEWS

Five wildfires in less than four years at Body Beach, homeless in brush part of woes

April 5, 2019

Lake Havasu City’s Body Beach has been the site of five wildland fires since September 2015, and there doesn’t seem to be any answers on how to solve the ongoing problem.

The most recent began Sunday morning. It burned 55 acres, reaching near the office shared by the sheriff’s offices of Mohave and San Bernardino, California, counties.

While no official cause has yet to be determined by the Bureau of Land Management, which is investigating, officials have said the blaze was caused by a person.

Last weekend’s fire was the largest recorded of the five that have burned in the area. A Dec. 19, 2018, fire that burned a very small area was the result of a homeless man using candles in his tent to provide light while he painted. The man was cited for fleeing from police.

A March 30, 2018, fire burned about 6 ½ acres. No cause was determined. An April 17, 2018, fire was caused by fireworks. Another, in September 2015, was the result of a vehicle driving over brush and the exhaust system provided the spark to ignite it.

Some of the land where the fires have occurred are Arizona State Trust Public Lands, which have been leased by the city. Other land ownership is by the BLM.

There doesn’t seem to be many answers in terms of what can be done to alleviate the problems.

After the April 2018 fire, the city cleared the area of burned brush, live brush, garbage and other hazardous materials. The city also brought in fill dirt as well.

According to City Manager Jess Knudson, on the first day of last year’s cleanup work, five dump truck loads of trash had removed.

The city is planning another cleanup of Body Beach, but an exact date hasn’t been determined, Knudson said.

City Maintenance Services Division Manager Mark Clark said the plan last year was to clean up three to four acres of both burned and existing vegetation as a way to help prevent future problems from occurring in the area.

While many have pointed to homeless encampments in the area as a major problem, the existence of the non-native salt cedar tree is another issue that doesn’t seem to have simple answers.

According to the National Park Service, salt cedars, also known as Tamarisk, may have been introduced in the area for erosion control. It has also been planted as an ornamental tree and for windbreaks. It propagates by seeds that frequently travel by wind or water. It also reproduces very easily. Broken plant parts, even tiny leaf-scales, can take root and start new plants.

Federal and state agencies have spent millions of dollars of taxpayer money on removing the tamarisk, and nonprofit groups such as the Tamarisk Coalition have spent countless hours attempting to subdue it. Efforts to burn it are futile because it will grow back and trying to pull it out takes significant effort. The effects of herbicides aren’t proven, either.

Lake Havasu City Fire Chief Brian Williams said if it were up to him, there’d be no salt cedars.

“I’d like to see no salt cedars, but that’s not realistic,” Williams said. “We’d like to thin them and create more fire breaks, but there are environmental impacts, too.”

What Williams referred to is the existence of the southwestern willow flycatcher. It is on the federal Endangered Species list and one of its preferred trees is the salt cedar.

“We have to be sensitive to everyone and accommodate everyone when it comes to that area,” Williams said.

Williams said he believed there were fewer people camping or living in the Body Beach area because his department has received fewer medical calls from the area than they did in 2018.

But there were some, as indicated by city police reports that showed three people were cited for illegal camping at Body Beach last week.

Lake Havasu City Police Sgt. Tom Gray said previously that the department has conducted regular patrols in the area of Body Beach and Rotary Park and have taken enforcement action when it’s necessary.

“Our officers have contacted several individuals in the Body Beach area over the past few months and advised them of the city ordinance related to illegal camping,” Gray wrote in an email. “Some of those individuals have complied and moved along after being told where they can legally camp while others have been cited for continuing to violate the city ordinance.

According to city police numbers, the department made 62 arrests for illegal camping in 2018 in city limits. In 2019, the current figures show that 15 arrests have been made.

“Not all of them were physically arrested and transported to the jail, some were cited and released and scheduled to appear in court at a future date,” Gray said in an email.

These stats include all of Lake Havasu City, not just the Body Beach area.

Scott Shindledecker can be reached at 928-453-4237 or sshindledecker@havasunews.com.