National forest closure order extended through weekend

Register Staff
Staff Writer

The regional forester for the National Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Region on Monday extended an order “to prohibit going into or being upon National Forest System lands” on eight area forests, including Inyo, through Sept. 21.
Randy Moore stated that Regional Order No. 20-12 also includes the following national forests: Cleveland, Angeles, San Bernardino, Los Padres, Sequoia, Sierra and Stanislaus.
“This regional order will protect natural resources and provide for the safety of forest visitors by preventing them from getting trapped on national forest system lands during emergency circumstances,” Moore stated.
Moore noted that California is experiencing an “unprecedented and dire fire season.”
There are 18 National Forests in California, totaling approximately 20 million acres. Currently, 13 of 18 national forests in the Pacific Southwest Region in California have large fires.
Nearly all fires are now large, “complex” fires (a series of fires in close proximity to one another that have burned into a single large unit), Moore stated.
“In a typical fire season, California will see some 300,000 acres burn,” he stated. “This year, more than three million acres have already burned statewide.”
According to Moore, to date in 2020, 1,148 wildfires have burned 839,677 acres of national forest system lands in the Pacific Southwest Region. Currently, there are 19 uncontained large wildfires in Northern California with 25 new fires reported. In Southern California, there are eight uncontained large wildfires with 19 new fires reported.
In Southern California, to date this year, there have been 555 wildfires burning 197,443 acres on national forest system lands. Light to moderate initial attack activity is expected through the middle of next week as humidity will continue to be low with poor recoveries other than along the immediate coast.
Despite generally light winds, the fire threat will be moderate through the middle of next week due to the low humidity, warm temperatures and overly dry fuels conditions. Extreme fire behavior and dangerous rates of spread are possible at any time of day.
“Looking ahead, the potential for extreme fire activity will be likely to continue until enough precipitation occurs to significantly increase fuel moisture,” Moore stated.
Fires on national forests in Southern California include the Creek on the Sierra National Forest, El Dorado on the San Bernardino National Forest, Bobcat on the Angeles National Forest, Dolan on the Los Padres National Forest, SQF Complex on the Sequoia National Forest, and Valley on the Cleveland National Forest.
Moore noted that extreme weather conditions have made this situation significantly worse this year. Record high temperatures, unprecedented dry lightning events, and multiple heat waves across the state have made conditions extremely dry and susceptible to fire ignition. Temperatures have reached over 100 degrees for most of the state several weeks running, even in areas along the coast that are typically cooler.
In addition to the heat and high temperatures, Moore stated, significant wind events have occurred fueling blazes out of control. This week major wind events are forecasted for northern and southern California. The combination of record heat and wind are recipe for significant fire danger and potential disaster.
Nationally, and within California, fire-fighting resources continue to operating at maximum capacity and there are significant shortages of resources. The agency’s fire-fighting organization has been in Preparedness Level 5 (PL5), the highest level of fire response preparedness, for several weeks. Nationally there are no Type 1 Incident Management Teams available and only two Type 2 teams available.
All fire engines and major fire-fighting equipment are already assigned to existing fires or positioned to prevent new fire starts from escaping initial attack. This scarcity of resources has caused the agency to seek assistance from the U.S. Army as well as other countries including Canada, Mexico, and Australia. This situation means that should additional fires break, the agency may not be able to respond in a timely manner, further risking life and property.
National forests in California have seen record numbers of visitors this summer. Reports indicate that use levels normally associated with peak holidays such as Memorial Day and the Fourth of July are being seen every day throughout the summer. This has held true this Labor Day weekend as well.
Moore stated that campgrounds and dispersed use areas are reported as full to capacity and overflowing. Parking lots spill over into roadways. Conflicts between use groups are up, including criminal activity. And trash and human waste are collecting faster than staffs are able to clear and clean facilities. These visitor use levels and related management issues further exacerbate a challenging fire situation creating a heightened level of risk.
In southern California and the southern Sierra Nevada mountain foothills, the situation is particularly dire, Moore noted. Climates are typically drier in these parts of the state and years of drought and major tree mortality in the Sierra foothill areas has created fuel types and conditions particularly suited to fire ignition.
“When we consider this in relation to the high levels of public use and recreation that occurs in these areas, there is a recipe for potential disaster,” Moore stated. “There are 40 million people in close proximity to the forests in southern California and use is high and difficult to manage.”
As an example, among many, Moore pointed to the Creek Fire, which grew exponentially one afternoon due to high winds encircling a popular boat launch and lake area. As a result, 150 people were trapped and had to be evacuated by helicopters from the Army National Guard.