As wildfires rage across California, all national forests in the state will be closed to visitors for two weeks starting late Tuesday, the U.S. Forest Service announced Monday.
The closures will begin at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday and will extend through at least Sept. 17 — including for the upcoming Labor Day holiday, according to a news release.
“I have made the difficult decision to temporarily close all (California) National Forests in order to better provide public and firefighter safety due to extreme fire conditions throughout the state, and strained firefighting resources throughout the country,” California’s regional forester, Jennifer M. Eberlien, said in a notice to employees obtained by The Sacramento Bee.
All 20 million acres encompassing the state’s national forests will be closed to camping, hiking and all other activities, except the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, which is in Nevada but has a smaller portion in eastern California. In Southern California, the closure includes the Angeles, San Bernardino, Los Padres and Cleveland national forests.
“I do not take this decision lightly but this is the best choice for public safety,” Eberlien said. “It is especially hard with the approaching Labor Day weekend, when so many people enjoy our national forests.”
The closures will minimize the likelihood that visitors could become entrapped on Forest Service land and will decrease the potential for new fires to start at a time of extremely limited firefighting resources, according to the news release.
The Forest Service said that “although the potential for large fires and risk to life and property is not new,” what’s different is the following factors: record level fuel and fire conditions; fire behavior that is beyond the norm of their experience; significantly limited resources and teams to combat new fires; and no predicted weather relief for an extended period of time into the late fall.
A closure was already in effect for nine national forests in Northern California as more than a dozen large fires blaze across the state.
On Monday, thousands of people were being forced to evacuate from South Lake Tahoe as the Caldor Fire raced toward the resort city between California and Nevada. The blaze had scorched at least 277 square miles since breaking out on Aug. 14.
In the Cajon Pass area, the Railroad Fire closed a section of the 15 Freeway Sunday as winds pushed the blaze across lanes.
Evacuation orders were also in place along the border of San Diego and Riverside counties after a wildfire, dubbed the Chaparral Fire, spread through the Cleveland National Forest on Saturday. It was 13% contained as of Monday.
There are currently more than 15,000 personnel working to put out fires across the state, Cal OES officials said in a press briefing Monday.
For a list of people exempt from the order, click here. For specific questions within your area, consult your local forest website or social media pages for more information.