Extreme Fire Danger Closes Forests, Trails in CA and OR

Sep. 8, 2020 – With scorching temps and high winds sweeping across West Coast states, forest managers are taking extra precautions to keep outdoor recreationists safe from the outbreak of potentially disastrous wildfires. Over the Labor Day weekend, Oregon’s Willamette and Deschutes national forests closed the Mount Jefferson Wilderness out of concern for the rapidly spreading Lionshead Fire. This was quickly followed by land managers closing entire forests throughout Southern and Central California. Hikers and campers in these areas are being instructed to evacuate immediately.

Multiple Forest Closures in California

With more than three dozen separate wildfire incidents already burning across California, and a perfect-storm weather situation (high temps, low humidity, and strong winds) affecting most of the state, California’s forest managers are not taking any chances. On Monday, Sep. 7, managers completely closed all trails, campgrounds and day-use sites across the Stanislaus, Sierra, Sequoia, Inyo, Los Padres, Angeles, San Bernardino, and Cleveland national forests.

“The wildfire situation throughout California is dangerous and must be taken seriously. Existing fires are displaying extreme fire behavior, new fire starts are likely, weather conditions are worsening, and we simply do not have enough resources to fully fight and contain every fire,” says Randy Moore, Regional Forester for the USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region. “We are bringing every resource to bear nationally and internationally to fight these fires, but until conditions improve, and we are confident that National Forest visitors can recreate safely, the priority is always to protect the public and our firefighters. With these extreme conditions, these temporary actions will help us do both.”

Of those closed forests, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) crosses four of them: the Stanislaus, Sierra, Sequoia and Inyo. The John Muir Trail (JMT) is largely contained to the Inyo. Forest managers are instructing all hikers and campers to vacate these areas. In addition, all Inyo backcountry wilderness permits through Sep. 14 have been cancelled, with the possibility that additional dates will be cancelled depending on the fire situation. Staff at the Inyo Wilderness Permit Office recommend that hikers holding wilderness permit reservations follow the Inyo Facebook page for the latest information. As the situation allows, new permits may be issued via for future hiking dates.

Smoke from California's Creek Fire resembles a volcanic eruption. Photo by Ryan Waugh, courtesy of Inciweb.

Forest Closures Expand in Oregon

In Oregon’s north-central Mount Jefferson region, which straddles the Deschutes and Willamette national forests, in addition to the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, the Lionhead Fire has quickly expanded to more than 27, ooo acres. What began as a closure of the Mount Jefferson Wilderness on Sep. 6 has expanded today into a full closure of the Willamette National Forest. All trails, campgrounds, day-use areas, boat ramps, etc. are closed to the public. All forest roads across the region are closed as well. The public is advised to stay well clear of the entire area.

For PCT hikers, the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) has rescinded their suggested detour around the closure. They are now recommending that thru- and section-hikers exit the trail south or north of the Willamette closure area. To the south, this is Santiam Pass (Hwy 20); to the north, this is Olallie Lake. Olallie Lake however, is quite far from any major highways, so it would be better to exit the trail farther north, at Timothy Lake or Wapinitia Pass (Hwy 26), and not venture too close to the closure area.

Lionshead Fire closure area on Deschutes National Forest; the PCT acts as the western boundary. Click for larger.
Lionshead Fire closure area on Willamette National Forest; the PCT acts as the eastern boundary. Click for larger.

A little farther to the north, a small wildfire has broken out on the eastern flank of Mount Hood. Forest managers have closed the eastern side of the Timberline Trail, between Timberline Lodge and Cloud Cap Saddle, as well as the Elk Meadows and Umbrella/Sahalie trailheads. This closure area includes the popular Cooper Spur Trail. Hikers and backpackers should stay clear of this area.

UPDATE: As of Sep. 08, 6 pm, the entire Mount Hood National Forest has been closed for all uses. “At this time, with extreme fire danger, multiple wildfire growing, and new wildfires igniting and multiple evacuations, it’s simply not safe to visit,” said Forest Supervisor Richard Periman. This is a temporary closure, and will be reevaluated as conditions improve.

Timberline Trail closure area on Mount Hood, effective 09-07-20. Click for larger.

Stay Away, and Stay Safe

With high temps and strong winds expected to continue in West Coast states through this week, these fire situations could change quickly and dramatically. Or new ones could pop up. Hikers should give these fires, and the fire crews working to suppress them, a wide berth. Find trails well away from any active fire areas and/or closures, and adhere to all campfire/cooking bans and restrictions. Now is not the time for reckless behavior. Play it safe out there.

Visit Inciweb for the latest info and developments on these and other active fires.

This information is current as of Sep. 08, 2020, 5:30 pm.

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