Extreme fire danger forces US national forest to close

AP, DENVER, Colorado

Wed, Jun 13, 2018 - Page 6

Extreme fire danger prompted officials to shut down a sprawling forest that includes some of Colorado’s most stunning mountains in a region that attracts tourists from around the world, a rare tactic also being used in neighboring states as the US southwest struggles with severe drought.

National forests and parks in Arizona and New Mexico have already been shut down as precautions.

San Juan National Forest officials in southwestern Colorado planned to close hundreds of kilometers of trails and thousands of kilometers of back roads to hikers, bikers, horseback riders and campers as soon as yesterday to prevent the possibility of an abandoned campfire or any other spark from starting a wildfire.

It is the first full closure of a national forest in Colorado since 2002, which was another very dry year. The closure is to remain until sufficient precipitation eases the fire danger.

The move comes as the residents of more than 2,000 homes have been forced to evacuate because of a fire that started on June 1 in the forest and spread to about 91km2 as of Monday. Authorities are still investigating how the fire started.

Much of the US West is experiencing some level of drought and the Four Corners region — where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado meet — is at the center of a large patch of exceptional drought.

In New Mexico, the Santa Fe National Forest, along with portions of three national park sites, closed on June 1 because of the fire danger.

The US Forest Service also is planning to bar recreation in a handful of ranger districts in the Cibola National Forest outside of Albuquerque beginning on Friday.

Portions of national forests in Arizona were closed late last month because of severe fire conditions.

Colorado’s latest closure will also bar non-recreational uses, although ranchers, for example, who use some of the forest land for grazing will be able to seek exemptions.

The region, which is also home to Mesa Verde National Park, relies heavily on visitors to support its economy and fire managers have tried to help encourage them to keep coming by including links to tourism information in their regular fire updates.