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These Mt. Shasta area campgrounds, sites are closed or under new restrictions due to wildfire threat

Maria Sestito
Palm Springs Desert Sun

Federal officials have taken the unprecedented step of closing all of California's 18 National Forests and they're and implementing new restrictions in others as more than two dozen major blazes across California display unprecedented wildfire behavior and stretch resources thin amid brutal weather conditions. 

Eight National Forests are temporarily closed, and campgrounds are shut down at all others throughout the state, as of Tuesday. Ignition sources such as campfires or gas stoves are currently prohibited in all National Forests as well as on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. 

The Castle Lake recreation area is closed due to extreme fire danger, as well as other U.S. Forest Service Day Use sites.

In the Shasta McCloud Management Unit, the following campgrounds are closed:

• Trout Creek Campground

• Algoma Campground

• Cattle Camp Campground

• Fowler's Campground

• Ah-Di-Na Campground

• McBride Springs Campground

• Sims Campground

• Castle Lake Campground

• Gumboot Campground

• Panther Meadows Campground

• Camp 4 group site

• Red Fir Flat group site

Day Use sites that are closed include:

• The gate at McBride Springs Campground is closed and all recreation sites on Everitt Memorial Highway day use sites will be closed on: Everitt Memorial Day Use, Red Fir Flat, Sand Flat, Bunny Flat, Panther Meadows, Old Ski Bowl

• Castle Lake

• Sim's Day Use Area

• Pollard Flat

• Snowman's Hill

• McCloud River Falls area (Lower/Upper/Middle Falls; Lakin Dam; Cattle Camp swimming hole)

• Pilgrim Creek snowmobile staging area

"We just can't afford to have any more fire on the landscape — our resources are stretched too thin," Steve Lohr, deputy regional forester with U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, said during a video press conference on Tuesday.

Nearly 14,000 firefighters were battling 25 major wildfiresacross the state on Tuesday, according to Cal Fire. This year's fire season has burned a record number of acres, destroyed more than 3,300 structures and led to eight deaths. Some firefighters have lost their homes and many have been evacuated.Lohr said that some have had to leave the fire line to evacuate their homes then immediately return to work.

"These fires are moving quickly, are super intense and are really, really a significant threat to the public and our firefighters," Lohr said. "Our resources are really stretched to the limit. We continue to get new fires everyday and significant fires at that."

Where are the National Forest closures?

The following National Forests were closed as of 5 p.m. Monday:

  • Angeles National Forest
  • Cleveland National Forest
  • Inyo National Forest
  • Los Padres National Forest
  • San Bernardino National Forest
  • Sequoia National Forest
  • Sierra National Forest
  • Stanislaus National Forest

If current conditions continue, National Forests in Northern California could close completely, officials said.

Lohr said closures and prohibitions are expected to be in effect for the next week, but will be reevaluated daily. 

Why are the forest closures in place?

The decision to close some of the National Forests came after officials saw extreme fire behavior from the Creek Fire in the Sierra National Forest. That fire, which began Friday and grew rapidly on Saturday, made a 15-mile run in a single afternoon. It has burned 143,929 acres and is 0% contained as of Tuesday. 

"The behavior that we saw was unique and extreme — that's what we're seeing with this entire fire season," said Tony Scardina, USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest deputy regional forester.

In order to protect people, he said, officials weren't willing to wait any longer to close forests. "We took decisive action to no longer take that risk and have the public in harm's way," Scardina said. 

People eager to get outside after nearly six months of the coronavirus pandemic have visited the parks. S​​​​​​ome refused to evacuate when asked, adding further stress to fire resources. 

"We're having to pull firefighters and resources off the line to go in and rescue them and, in some cases, just remove a lot of the downed timber from the fires from the roads so they can get out," Regional Forester Randy Moore said. "The more we have to do that, the less capability we have in suppressing the fires."

What are the new rules on BLM lands?

Due to the high fire danger, BLM officials on Tuesday also announced increased fire restrictions, including a prohibition on all uses of open flames. 

The new restrictions are in addition to year-round statewide fire prevention orders and local fire and target shooting restrictions already in place.  

The following restrictions will remain in place on BLM-managed lands in California until the fire danger subsides: 

  • No building, maintaining, attending or using a campfire, charcoal BBQ, portable stoves or open flame of any kind, including within an established campground.
  • No smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, or at a developed recreation site, or other designated areas
  • No welding or operating acetylene or other torches with open flame 
  • No possession, discharge or use of fireworks, pyrotechnic or incendiary devices
  • No shooting, igniting or causing to burn; explosives or explosive material, including binary explosive targets

What happens if you defy new orders?

BLM officials said anyone found guilty of violating a fire prevention order may be fined up to $100,000 and/or face imprisonment for no more than 12 months.

Violators may also be found responsible for restitution for fire suppression costs and damages. 

Forest Service officials are asking people to follow evacuation orders. Individuals caught disobeying National Forest closure orders will be ticketed.

Additional law enforcement officers from outside the region will be utilized to enforce orders. The Forest Service expects to have cooperation with county and municipal law enforcement agencies as well. 

California fire tracker:Map traces current blazes burning across state in real-time

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"We have a lot of resources already committed to the fires here in California and, as much resources as we have, it's still not enough," Moore said.

Though additional resources are limited, he said, the impact of COVID-19 has been minimal with only three positive cases among personnel. 

What's the outlook moving forward?

Officials are hoping for some reprieve in Northern California as they anticipate a longer-than-usual fire season in California. 

"The long-term projection is that we will likely see extended large fires in Southern California for the next few months," Scardina said. 

While weather conditions are bad everywhere — most of California is under a red flag warning through Wednesday — they are significantly worse in Southern California, Lohr said. Red flag warnings are issued in response to conditions that could fuel wildfires.

Strong, gusty winds and low humidity expected in most of the state on Wednesday may increase activity of current fires and cause new fires to grow rapidly. 

More than 7,500 wildfires have ravaged the state in 2020, burning more than 2.2 million acres so far this year.

"Most of California is under unprecedented and dangerous wildfire conditions," Lohr said. "We're seeing fire behavior that we've not seen."

The Forest Service manages 18 National Forests in the Pacific Southwest Region, which encompasses more than 20 million acres across California, and assists forest landowners in California, Hawaii and the U.S. Affiliated Pacific Islands. 

Maria Sestito covers aging and the senior population in Coachella Valley for The Desert Sun. She is also a Report for America corps member and new to the desert. Please say "hello" via maria.sestito@desertsun.com or @RiaSestito.