The United States Forest Service (USFS) announced late Monday that all National Forests in California will temporarily close through September 17th due to the worsening wildfire situation in the state.
Northern California is currently inundated by several wildfires, including the over 800,000 acre Dixie Fire and the 190,000 acre Caldor Fire, which is currently threatening to destroy many Lake Tahoe-area resort communities and has caused over 30,000 California residents to evacuate into Nevada.
In addition to the current fires, the added risk of a large number of vacationers potentially sparking new wildfires, the risk of having many people trapped in a National Forest during a wildfire, and conditions providing a higher risk of rapid growth wildfires all added into the Forest Service’s decision on the total state closure.
Specifically, the USFS named four major reasons tied to the current conditions including record levels of fuel such as dry timber, fire behavior that is beyond the norm of previous experiences, limited resources and manpower to help engage new fire threats, and no predicted weather relief for an extended period of time into the late fall.
“We do not take this decision lightly but this is the best choice for public safety,” explained Regional Forester Jennifer Eberlien in the press release. “It is especially hard with the approaching Labor Day weekend, when so many people enjoy our national forests.”
Several exceptions were noted in the announcement. The Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, which is almost completely within the state of Nevada except for a small part going into California, will remain open due to the Forest not being part of the USFS Pacific Southwest region, which all other Forests are. The order also exempts certain permit holders that allow them the use of roads and trails within the Forests, all federal, local, and state first responders engaged in fire control efforts, utility workers with special permits who need to reach electrical, oil, gas and other utility lines, commercial recreational use holders for the sole purpose of protecting property and other assets currently in the Forests, those holding non-special use permits for forestry or livestock related reasons, owners of private land only accessible through roads in National Forests, and those who need to use roads in national parks solely for business use.
Wildfire risk, updates on fires across the state
Many wildfire experts, as well as those on the ground, approved of the USFS announcement on Tuesday, as well as highlighting the current risk wildfire fighters face right now with multiple Fires going on across the state.
“It’s already dangerous enough trying to put out these fires,” explained volunteer wildfire fighter Angelo Sorola during a break from fighting a fire in Lassen County to the Globe on Tuesday. “By having the minimum number of people possible in these Forests, we can really focus more on the fires. Some of us have been pulled to assist in evacuations or called to a different area because someone was refusing to leave with a fire literally in their backyard.”
“This clears away a huge number of potential people being trapped by these fires and helps ensure that another big one won’t get started, at least by human-caused reasons. If there is anyone upset by this, hey, we get it. But also remember we do NOT like seeing victims and we really cannot waste guys out here, especially due to some people who decided that picnicking in an isolated area during wildfire conditions was a good idea. We had people who were in Paradise a few years ago still haunted by that. A lot of us are still very upset over people starting wildfires due to errant campfires or gender reveal party fireworks going astray. We honestly cannot handle any more of that right now. So if you sacrifice not going to a National Forest for a few weeks, it will help us keep them up for you next time. And, you know, save a lot of people and buildings in harms way too.”
As of Tuesday, the Dixie Fire in Northern California is 48% contained while the Caldor Fire barely improved on containment going from 14% to 16% containment in 24 hours. Other large fires, such as the Monument Fire in Trinity County and French Fire in Kern County, are also undergoing rapid containment. While conditions in Southern California have left many fires at bay there, some, such as the 1,400 acre Chaparral Fire, are currently blazing right now as well.
The Forest closures are expected to remain into effect through September 17th in California.