What statewide temporary national forest closures means for Central California

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Labor Day weekend is fast approaching and if you were planning to go camping or boating in a national forest, you'll need to pick a different spot.

National forests in California are temporarily closing because of wildfires across the state. The closure begins on Wednesday through September 17.

"The last thing we want is for a large number of visitors to once again be in the forest and become trapped," said Dean Gould of the U.S. Forest Service.

Just one year ago, during the Labor Day weekend, the Creek Fire sparked in the Sierra National Forest. Quickly exploding in size, the fire grew to become California's largest single wildfire, destroyed hundreds of homes, and would continue to burn for months.

This year, wildfires have already burned more than 1.7 million acres of national forest land.

"This is not a light decision but at this point, with the resources and conditions that we have, it's the best choice for public safety," said Jennifer Eberlein, deputy regional forester for the Pacific Southwest Region.

Forest Service officials say they face record fuel levels, explosive fire conditions, and already strained resources.

"When we have an outbreak of a fire, especially in our wilderness area, it puts stress on all of our resources," said Sheriff Margaret Mims of the Fresno County Sheriff's Office. "So please, if you go up and you meet the exemptions, please be responsible."

Some of those exemptions include people who need to access their private property, animals, or businesses. But be prepared to show proof.

The forest service is not allowing recreational services on the water or in the forests.

Although rangers plan to give visitors caught off guard a warning first, people found willfully ignoring the order could be hit with a $5,000 fine.

While the National Forests will be closed, Shaver Lake and national parks will remain open, although Yosemite requires a reservation. With the last-minute changes, businesses and visitor center phones have been ringing off the hook with questions.

The boat rental company Sierra Marina at Shaver Lake claims they've lost more than $20,000 in rentals over the holiday weekend because of the confusion about what is open.

"Brides are calling places and asking, 'Hey, does this mean that my wedding will happen this month?' Our big message to people is yes, the businesses are still open," said Brooke Smith, director of Public Relations at Visit Yosemite Madera County.

This order does not affect the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, which is not in the Pacific Southwest Region.

The following persons are exempt from this Order:

  • Persons with Forest Service Permit No. FS-7700-48 (Permit for Use of Roads, Trails, or Areas Restricted by Regulation or Order), specifically exempting them from this Order.
  • Any Federal, State, or local officer, or member of an organized rescue or fire fighting force in the performance of an official duty.
  • Persons with a Forest Service special use authorization for an electric transmission line, an oil or gas pipeline, communications site, or any other non-recreation special use.
  • Commercial recreational special-use permit holders and their customers are not exempt from this Order. However, commercial recreational special-use permit holders, under the terms and conditions of their permit, may access their permit areas to conduct administrative functions and to protect property and related assets. Recreation residence permit holders are not exempt from this Order.
  • Persons with a Forest Service non-special-use written authorization to conduct non-recreational activities, such as harvesting timber or forest products, or grazing livestock.
  • Owners or lessees of land, and residents of such private landholdings, to the extent necessary to access their land.
  • Persons engaged in a business, trade, or occupation are not exempt from the prohibitions listed above, but may use National Forest System roads to the extent necessary to carry out their business, trade, or occupation.
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