Los Padres National Forest is now closed to visitors in a statewide effort to prevent fire.
The closure, set by the USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region, took effect at midnight and is scheduled through 11:59 p.m. Sept. 17.
California’s other national forests are also closed, except for the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest (which is primarily in Nevada and outside of the Pacific Southwest Region).
Los Padres spokesperson Andrew Madsen told the News-Press the closure could be lifted early or extended based on conditions.
Forest Service officials made the decision to close the forests because of fire-related factors.
Fire crews and incident command teams are occupied at wildfires, such as the Dixie Fire, Caldor Fire and Monument Fire.
The Dixie Fire has burned over 807,000 acres and is 48% contained as of Tuesday.
“If we were to get a new fire here, understanding all the incident management teams are working on other fires right now … We would need to pick it up and contain it while it was small,” Mr. Madsen said.
Firefighters throughout Santa Barbara County have been deployed in two-week shifts to the major fires.
Forest officials believe the closure will reduce the number of fire starts and protect fire crews.
Humans caused 88% of wildfires between 2016 and 2020, according to a Congressional Research Service report.
Decision-makers were also worried about a possible entrapment situation, like when Sequoia National Forest visitors had to be airlifted from a wildfire last year.
“It’s a difficult decision, but it’s the right decision right now,” Mr. Madsen said.
Those who reserved campgrounds are being refunded their deposits. The result is a disappointment to a budget-constrained department as well as nature enthusiasts, Mr. Madsen said.
Rangers are traveling throughout the forest to tell hunters and other guests about the closure.
Mr. Madsen says the forest hopes face-to-face reminders will keep people from breaking the order. But rangers are prepared to issue citations for those willfully violating the law.
Rangers will be closing forest roads over the next few days, but all county roads remain open.
There are exemptions to the order, including private property owners.
For more information, go to fs.usda.gov/main/lpnf/home.