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California Has Closed All Its National Forests to Preserve Fire Resources

More than 1.7 million acres—and counting—of US Forest Service-managed land has burned in California this year. Nearly 7,000 wildfires have erupted throughout the state. The Caldor Fire is, even now, bearing down on South Lake Tahoe with as many as 20,000 structures directly at risk. The southern half of the lakeside community is under evacuation orders. Meanwhile, the Dixie Fire, now California’s largest in history, has torn through mountain communities to the northeast of Tahoe. Resources are stretched unbelievably thin.

So the USFS made the decision to close all of the state’s national forests (except one—Humboldt Toiyabe, south of Tahoe, is not under the regional jurisdiction of the rest of the USFS lands in the state) to most public uses, starting today, August 31, to at least September 17. No camping, no backpacking, no hiking, no fishing—nothing. If you own property or a business on USFS land, you’re allowed entry as necessary. But that’s about it.

The idea is to try to keep people from danger as fast moving fires continue to pop up in the backcountry while also lessening the possibility of human caused fires, so firefighting resources can deal with the fires currently burning.

“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.”

From the USFS press release:

Factors that led to this decision include:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Forecasts show that conditions this season are trending the same or worse as we move into late summer and fall.
5. 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.

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