FireWatch: Forest Service temporarily closes all California national forests amid extreme fire danger

The US Forest Service says it will be closing all national forests within the state of California from Tuesday through September 17.

Posted: Aug 30, 2021 6:39 PM
Updated: Aug 30, 2021 6:39 PM

VALLEJO, Calif. — The US Forest Service says it will be closing all national forests within the state of California from Tuesday through September 17 to protect both the public and firefighters during the ongoing impacts of devastating wildfires in the state.

The order comes from the USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region, which covers all national forests in the state except the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, which is not in the Pacific Southwest Region. It will start just before midnight on August 31 and last until just before midnight on September 17.

“We do not take this decision lightly but this is the best choice for public safety,” said Regional Forester Jennifer Eberlien. “It is especially hard with the approaching Labor Day weekend, when so many people enjoy our national forests.”

More than 6,800 wildfires have burned 1.7 million acres in California so far this year. The National Wildfire Preparedness Level (PL) has been at PL5 since July 14, only the third time in the past 20 years that the nation has reached PL 5 by mid-July.

The Forest Service gave the following list of factors that led to the decision:

  • By temporarily reducing the numbers of people on national forests, we hope to minimize the likelihood that visitors could become entrapped on National Forest System lands during emergency circumstances.
  • The closure order will also decrease the potential for new fire starts at a time of extremely limited firefighting resources, and enhance firefighter and community safety by limiting exposure that occurs in public evacuation situations, especially as COVID-19 continues to impact human health and strain hospital resources.
  • Due to state-wide conditions, any new fire starts have the potential for large and rapid fire growth with a high risk to life and property. The Forest Service and our partners are absolutely doing all we can to fight these fires and will continue to do so, but the conditions dictate the need for this region-wide closure order.
  • Forecasts show that conditions this season are trending the same or worse as we move into late summer and fall.
  • 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 following persons are exempt from the order:

  • Persons with Forest Service Permit No. FS-7700-48 (Permit for Use of Roads, Trails, or Areas Restricted by Regulation or Order), specifically exempting them from this Order.
  • Any Federal, State, or local officer, or member of an organized rescue or fire fighting force in the performance of an official duty.
  • Persons with a Forest Service special use authorization for an electric transmission line, an oil or gas pipeline, communications site, or any other non-recreation special use.
  • Commercial recreational special-use permit holders and their customers are not exempt from this Order. However, commercial recreational special-use permit holders, under the terms and conditions of their permit, may access their permit areas to conduct administrative functions and to protect property and related assets. Recreation residence permit holders are not exempt from this Order.
  • Persons with a Forest Service non-special-use written authorization to conduct non-recreational activities, such as harvesting timber or forest products, or grazing livestock.
  • Owners or lessees of land, and residents of such private landholdings, to the extent necessary to access their land.
  • Persons engaged in a business, trade, or occupation are not exempt from the prohibitions listed above, but may use National Forest System roads to the extent necessary to carry out their business, trade, or occupation.

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