The U.S. Forest Service announced Monday that all of California’s national forests will be closed through Sept. 17 due to ongoing safety concerns related to the state’s wildfire crisis.
Forest Service officials confirmed the extension of an earlier closure that was originally slated to lift following Labor Day. The current move, meanwhile, has no bearing on the open status of California’s national or state parks. It also does not apply to the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, which primarily spans territory in Nevada.
“We do not take this decision lightly but this is the best choice for public safety,” regional forester Jennifer Eberlien said in a press release. “It is especially hard with the approaching Labor Day weekend, when so many people enjoy our national forests.”
Wildfires continue to take a brutal toll on the Golden State’s 20 million acres of forests, where increasingly dry conditions have made the region especially susceptible to record-setting blazes. As of Aug. 30, California’s 2021 fire total sits at 6,959, a number that has scorched more than 1.8 million acres, according to data compiled by Cal Fire and the Forest Service. The total acreage burned this year has already surpassed the 2020 fire season, and with “no predicted weather relief for an extended period of time into the late fall,” there is little indication of it letting up.
Acknowledging firefighting resources are spread thin, officials hope the additional closures will diminish the potential for new fires as well as the diversion of emergency services for visitors.
“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,” officials wrote in a release, adding that COVID-19 restrictions and hospital resource shortages continue to factor in decision-making as well.
A handful of exceptions to the current closures apply, including allowances made for individual land owners, those belonging to state organizations, or persons participating in select work initiatives. The full list of exceptions can be seen here. Violations of closures, such as frequenting trails or campgrounds, can result in steep fines.