Earlier this week, the U.S. Forest Service issued a press release announcing the closure of all California National Forests in the name of public safety and wildfire prevention.
On August 30, 2021, the USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region announced that due to the ongoing California wildfires and a concern for public safety, all National Forests in California are temporarily closed. The closure will be in effect from August 31, 2021, through September 17, 2021.
“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.”
Forest Service officials are basing this decision on several factors, including reducing the number of visitors to the forest to minimize the likelihood visitors could become entrapped on National Forest lands during an emergency such as a wildfire. The closure would also decrease the potential for new fire starts when resources are extremely limited and reduce the risk of COVID for firefighters and community members in evacuation situations.
California firefighters are seeing a record number of wildfires of unprecedented size and scope. Conditions across the state are such that any new fire starts could potentially grow into a large fire very rapidly. Southern California forests are just now getting into their typical fire season. Forest Service forecasts show that conditions trend the same or worse, moving into late summer and fall with no predicted weather relief.
According to forest service officials, California National Forests are facing record levels of fuel and fire conditions with “fire behavior that is beyond the norm of our experience and models such as large, quick runs in the night.” Initial attack resources, fire suppression resources, and Incident Command Teams are extremely limited at this time.
Just under 14,700 firefighters are currently battling 13 major wildfires and two extended attack wildfires in California. On September 3, 2021, firefighters responded to 26 new wildfires that were quickly extinguished.
Since the beginning of the year, wildfires in California have burned almost two million acres. Weather conditions for the southern forests are expected to see temperatures 5-10 degrees above normal through the next week, with a heat advisory for the southeastern part of the state in effect from 11:00 am, Saturday, September 4, 2021, through 8:00 pm on Monday. The hot and dry conditions will elevate the threat for large fires through this period.
The National Wildfire Preparedness Level has been at PL5 since July 14, 2021, which is only the third time in 20 years that the nation has reached this level by mid-July. PL5 is the highest level and indicates the highest level of wildland fire activity.