Stanislaus River Canyon

Smoke obscures this view of the Stanislaus River Canyon from Hathaway Pines on Friday.

Those hoping to visit the Stanislaus National Forest this weekend will have to make a change in plans.

Due to high fire danger and the resulting safety concerns, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region has issued a series of emergency orders which enact stringent fire restrictions and bar the public from the state’s national forests through Sept. 14.

Regional Order 20-07 and Regional Order 20-10 effectively close down all 18 national forests in the state.

The two orders prohibit the public from being in all of California’s National Forest System lands, including developed campgrounds, dispersed camping areas, day-use areas, wilderness areas, trails and roads.

There are some exceptions for those with proper permits or authorization, government officers, emergency personnel, and residents and landowners who need to pass through the national forest to access their homes or properties.

In addition, Regional Order 20-06 prohibits “building, attending or using a fire, campfire or stove fire” and smoking on all National Forest System lands, and is in effect through Sept. 14.

Violation of the orders is “punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization, or imprisonment for not more than six months, or both.”

“California is experiencing an unprecedented and dire fire season,” Regional Forester of the Pacific Southwest Region Randy Moore said in Regional Order 20-10. “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). In a typical fire season, California will see some 300,000 acres burn. This year, more than 1.8 million acres have already burned statewide.”

Extreme weather conditions have made the fire season especially destructive this year, Moore said.

“Record high temperatures, unprecedented dry lightning events, and multiple heatwaves across the state have made conditions extremely dry and susceptible to fire ignition,” Moore said in the closure order. “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, significant wind events have occurred fueling blazes out of control. This week we have already seen major wind events and they are expected to continue in both northern and southern California.”

The large amount of fires burning across the state has put a significant strain on resources, Moore said.

“Nationally, and within California, firefighting resources are operating at maximum capacity and there are significant shortages of resources,” Moore said in the closure order. “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.”

Unusually large numbers of visitors to the national forests this year also played a role in the decision to enact the closures, Moore said.

“National Forests in California have seen record numbers of visitors this summer,” Moore said in the closure order. “Reports indicate that use levels normally associated with peak holidays such as Memorial Day and the 4th of July are being seen every day throughout the summer. This has held true this past Labor Day weekend as well. 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.”

Like other national forests across the state, the Stanislaus National Forest (SNF) has seen a large increase in visitors this year.

“The visitation that we’re seeing on the weekdays this summer was as busy as it normally would be on a weekend in past years,” SNF Spokeswoman Diana Fredlund said. “And our weekends are as busy as it would have been on 4th of July.”

Fredlund said that employees are currently patrolling the SNF and informing the public of the closure order.

“We’ve got our law enforcement folks and also several of our other recreation employees that are going out and patrolling, making sure that all of the people that they see are aware that the forest is closed,” she said. “We understand that they haven’t been finding many folks, and most everyone has been really helpful and understands the reason why this is happening, so we’re very appreciative of that.”

The Creek Fire, which broke out on Sept. 4 in the Sierra National Forest and is currently over 175,000 acres and 6% contained, highlights the danger that the state faces, Fredlund said.

“That could happen on any one of our forests right now,” she said.

Fredlund stressed that no fires of any kind are currently allowed on the national forests through Sept. 14.

“That includes no use of propane or gel-fueled stoves and no smoking materials,” she said. “Any kind of ignition source is prohibited on the national forest right now, and that’s because it’s so incredibly dangerous, and the fire danger is so critically high.”

It is possible that the closure orders will be extended past Sept. 14.

“It’s really going to depend on what the conditions are,” Fredlund said. “If they continue to stay really bad, then we might get extended. … We are really trying very hard to make sure that our community can stay as safe as it can. That’s why we’re doing this, and we do thank everybody for their understanding.”

To view the regional orders, visit fs.usda.gov/main/r5/alert-notices and scroll to the bottom of the page.

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Reporter

Noah Berner has lived in Calaveras County most of his life, and graduated from University of California, Santa Cruz with a degree in history.

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