Forest Service officials have ordered the immediate closure of California’s 19 national forests through mid-September.
Labor Day weekend plans in the Golden State? Not so fast. California has issued a historic first by closing every national forest within state lines.
The closure, which includes 1,690 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, goes into effect today, Aug. 31, and will remain in effect until at least Sep. 17.
California’s National Forest Closures
The U.S. Forest Service handled the initial announcement, Regional Order No. 21-07 for the Pacific Southwest Region, on Monday afternoon. The order comes after California’s worst wildfire season was recorded in 2020, when an estimated 4.1 million acres burned.
The agency lists public safety as its primary concern. Sensibly, closing national forest access during a popular camping holiday is a risk reduction measure — no campers, no campfires, etc.
We made the difficult decision to temporarily close all National Forests in CA in order to better provide public & firefighter safety due to extreme fire conditions. This will be effective on Aug. 31 at 11:59 p.m. through Sept. 17 at 11:59 p.m. MORE: https://t.co/bm1dODBoLZ pic.twitter.com/QVLnyJSwGH
— Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region (@usfs_r5) August 31, 2021
The weight of California’s fire crisis is difficult to overstate. In its official press release, the Forest Service said:
Although the potential for large fires and risk to life and property is not new, what is different is that we are facing: (a) record level fuel and fire conditions; (b) fire behavior that is beyond the norm of our experience and models such as large, quick runs in the night; (c) significantly limited initial attack resources, suppression resources, and Incident Command Teams to combat new fire starts and new large fires; and (d) no predicted weather relief for an extended period of time into the late fall.
The release also notes that National Wildfire Preparedness Level sits at PL5 — the highest possible level of wildland fire activity. It’s been that way since mid-July.
At the time of this writing, nearly 7,000 wildfires have scorched 1.7 million acres within California alone. There’s little hope for drought-relieving weather until late autumn, and many of the fires are largely uncontained.
Violators Face Imprisonment and Fines
The regional order also stipulates fines and imprisonment for violation of the temporary closures. Legal authorities will mete disorderly individuals with 6 months imprisonment, fines up to $5,000 per person ($10,000 for unauthorized organizations), or both.
To report new fire dangers or activity, or to submit an inquiry, contact a U.S. Forest Service regional office.