National forests close due to extreme fire conditions

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Resources are stretched to the limit as unprecedented fire weather and new wildfire starts cause National Forest closures. Anza Valley Outlook/Diane Sieker photo

With unprecedented and historic fire conditions throughout the state, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region announced a temporary closure of all 18 national forests in California.

The Forest Service closed eight National Forests Monday evening, Sept. 7, and explosive growth of fires throughout California during the day and late evening Sept. 8, led to a decision to close all the parks temporarily. This decision will be reevaluated daily as conditions change, officials said.

“The number of large fires and extreme fire behavior we are seeing across the state is historic,” regional forester Randy Moore said. “These temporary closures are necessary to protect the public and our firefighters, and we will keep them in place until conditions improve and we are confident that National Forest visitors can recreate safely. I ask all Californians and visitors to take these closures and evacuations seriously for their own safety and to allow our firefighters to focus on the mission of safely suppressing these fires.”

Additionally, the Bureau of Land Management said that a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail managed by the bureau has also been temporarily closed due to the Valley Fire currently burning in the Lawson Valley and Japatul areas in San Diego County. The closure impacts approximately 10.5 miles of trail between Highway 94 near the community of Campo and the U.S. Forest Service – Cleveland National Forest boundary on Hauser Mountain in San Diego County.

“The number of large wildfires and extreme fire behavior in California and Oregon is historic. What this means, in essence, is that now is not the time to be hiking or backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail in these states. Please take these closures and the ongoing risk of extreme fire events seriously and stay off the trail,” a representative of the Top of the State Unit of the Backcountry Horsemen of California said.

It is critical that all Californians and national forest visitors follow the closures and restrictions for their own safety and the safety of firefighters.

With the current fire activity across the west, fire resources are engaged in multiple incidents already and may not have the capacity to suppress new fire starts. With the combination of significant wind, extreme heat and dry vegetation, any new fire will likely exhibit extreme behavior. It can create dangerous evacuation situations, especially for campers within the forests. The safety of the public and firefighters remains the Forest Service’s top priority.

“While the off-road community is upset that our recreating areas are closed, we understand the importance of closing the forests,” Lorenzo Loche, off-road enthusiast, said. “With the unprecedented conditions we’ve been experiencing, it’s vital we do everything in our power to protect what we have. We love being out in nature and on the trails and we must do everything to protect that.”

The Forest Service manages 18 national forests in the Pacific Southwest Region, which encompasses over 20 million acres across California, and assists forest landowners in California, Hawaii and the U.S. Affiliated Pacific Islands. National forests supply 50% of the water in California and form the watershed of most major aqueducts and more than 2,400 reservoirs throughout the state.

“The off-roading community uses these forest trails more than most,” Jayson Simmons said. “The trail is more than a rough dirt road. It’s a place where families spend quality time together, where memories are made. We enjoy the beautiful world that God gave us. We must protect these resources.”

Citizens with specific questions within their area may call their local forests for more information.

For more information, visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/R5.

To learn more about the Bureau of Land Management, visit them at https://go.usa.gov/xGZ5C.

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at dsieker@reedermedia.com.