CA fire danger 'extreme'

Extreme fire danger in two California forests prompted officials to close significant areas of the parks.

BY HEATHER MOYER | BALTIMORE | October 1, 2004



"We always ask people to please be careful out there, we're in our sixth year of drought now."

— Joan Wynn


Extreme fire danger in two California forests prompted officials to close significant areas of the parks.

Southern California's Angeles National Forest and Cleveland National Forest are experiencing extremely dry conditions this season. On Monday, rangers at the Angeles National Forest closed off 80% of the park's 680,000 acres over fears that even the smallest spark could start a tremendous wildfire.

According to a release from Angeles National Forest officials, only a significant change in weather patterns can solve the severe dry conditions.

"Even though we may have a low-pressure system that moves through the area and temps are cooler for a day or two, it has no real effect on the extremely dry conditions," said Forest Supervisor Jody Noiron. "Cooler temperatures are only a drop in the bucket. The only thing that will bring us out of these extreme conditions is a significant amount of rainfall over a sustained period of time. Until then, we need to take necessary action to protect public safety."

Forest rangers are also evacuating 120 of the private residential cabins in the park as well - although some residents are refusing to leave. The residents, only a handful among the 120 cabins, say they would do the park a service by staying put and watching for any signs of fire. They are also afraid firefighters would do nothing if the cabins were threatened by a possible wildfire. Forest officials are saying they will continue to do what they can to get the residents to leave.

For the Cleveland National Forest, some 20% of the park is closed off, and severe restrictions on campfires and smoking are in effect.

"We always ask people to please be careful out there, we're in our sixth year of drought now," said Joan Wynn, spokesperson for the Cleveland National Forest. "And there can be large fines if people violate the rules."

For individuals who violate fire restrictions, fines can reach up to $5,000. And if they spark a wildfire, the perpetrators are frequently handed the bill for the firefighting costs. "We've done that before," added Wynn.

According to the Los Angeles/Oxnard National Weather Service (NWS) office, the dry weather across Southern California has been a pattern for a while now. "We've been dry since April, and really, the last several years have been dry," said Bruce Rockwell, weather service specialist for the Los Angeles/Oxnard NWS office. "Fall is usually our dry time, but this season may be more extreme. And the Santa Ana winds just make it worse."

The NWS works very closely with the firefighters and national parks in the area, with their fire weather meteorologists providing spot forecasts on request for the authorities.

Last fall, wildfires burned close to 800,000 acres across Southern California, killing 24 people and destroying 3,710 homes. This past July, three fires burned 34,000 acres over a two- week period on the Angeles National Forest in the Santa Clarita area.


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