After two weeks of being closed off to the public, the United States Forest Service (USFS) announced that nearly all National Forests would reopen Wednesday night at 11:59 P.M., two days ahead of schedule.
Due to factors such as high winds, dry conditions, and no precipitation being forecasted, as well as numerous active wildfires around he state, including the Caldor Fire that was raging in the El Dorado National Forest and threatening to destroy South Lake Tahoe, the USFS took the unprecedented step of closing all national forests within a state.
However, in the last few weeks, conditions have vastly improved in much of the state. Besides the large Dixie and Caldor Fires, both of which are currently over 70% contained, there are currently few incidents that Cal Fire is currently tracking. The most notable upstart fire, the KNP Complex Fire, is currently threatening both Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks. However, that one is being heavily monitored and is currently only 6,000 acres wide with crews rushing to extinguish it and save numerous old growth Sequoia trees, the trademark of the parks.
While most National Forests will reopen, a total of 5 will remain closed further into September. The Southern Californian Los Padres, Angeles, Cleveland, and San Bernardino National Forests will remain closed through September 22nd due to many SoCal wildfire fighters currently battling blazes elsewhere, as well as many dry weather factors coming up. El Dorado National Forest in Northern California will also remain closed until the end of the month due to the Caldor Fire still raging in the area.
“Forest-wide closures will remain in place and be extended until midnight on September 22nd on the Los Padres, Angeles, San Bernardino, and Cleveland National Forests in Southern California due to local weather and fire factors, as well as a temporary strain on firefighting resources supporting large fires in other areas of the state,” the USFS on said Tuesday.
“In addition to the four National Forests that will remain closed in Southern California, some National Forest System lands throughout the state will be closed under local closure orders in areas of ongoing wildfires to ensure public safety. This includes the El Dorado National Forest in Northern California, which has a forest closure order until Sept. 30. Fire restrictions also remain in place across all National Forests in California to prevent new fire starts.”
Fire crews still spread thin despite a reduction of wildfires
Many wildfire fighters noted the importance of this new order on Wednesday.
“Things are still so bad in other parts of the state that we need to keep some places closed around LA and San Diego so we don’t have to rush back there if we can help it,” said volunteer wildfire fighter Angelo Sorola to the Globe on Wednesday between shifts. “We’re literally stopping the second largest fire in state history, one that nearly burned down a city of over 20,000 people, and another that is currently burning down swathes in a national park. It’s better up here, but still not great. And the risk is down now here too.”
“But with a lot of people up here and conditions getting worse down there to spark a fire, it’s what was done. If a big one does start down there then, man, we’re going to hear about it from our superiors. This is when forest fires can become political, focusing on one area over another. And you don’t want to make forest fires a political tool outside of maybe giving us more funding to combat these fires and more penalties for those who started them.”
“I can only imagine how much we’ll be hearing about this a year from now with the next Governor’s race. I was surprised it wasn’t a bigger issue this year.”
Wildfire crews are expected to continue to turn back fires in Northern California this week.