SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - Along with several other National Forests in California, the Los Padres National Forest is temporarily closed to visitors due to critical fire weather conditions and stretched firefighting resources committed to wildfires across the state.
The closure began Monday evening. It will be re-evaluated daily, though it is scheduled to continue until at least Monday, September 14.
A Los Padres National Forest spokesperson says it is likely the first full forest closure since the Zaca Fire broke out in 2007.
Hiking, camping and any other recreation in the forest--as well as driving on any forest roads-- is currently banned and violators could face a misdemeanor citation.
“About every [National] Forest in Southern California has a large fire, currently,” the U.S. Forest Service’s Shawn Brandow, who focuses on fire prevention, said Tuesday.
The Dolan Fire is burning in the Big Sur area of Los Padres, while local fire resources are also dispatched to raging wildfires in other National Forests.
“With the shortage of manpower, we won’t be able to attack [a new] fire as heavily as we usually do,” Brandow said. “Aircraft is stretched thin… So we want to eliminate any starts. The way to eliminate starts is to keep a lot of the humans out of the forest.”
Fire weather concerns are top of mind after a record-breaking Labor Day weekend heat wave that dried out brush. Santa Ana winds are forecast for Ventura County and other areas of Southern California beginning Tuesday.
Those beginning hikes in the Santa Barbara front country are advised not to hike too far up any trails and into Los Padres National Forest land.
The U.S. Forest Service urges everyone to take the closures seriously, not only to protect the land but also to keep civilians and firefighters safe.
“People don’t realize that there’s a lot of things that we do that actually start fires,” Brandow said. “Vehicles can start fires. When people are just driving through the forest. A hot muffler, catalytic converter spitting out things… People smoke in the forest. A lot of times hunting will cause a fire to start.”
Campgrounds and day use areas are closed, while the Forest Service has also put up multiple barricades on East Camino Cielo to keep campers out of Forest land. On West Camino Cielo, the Winchester Gun Club's gate is also locked to prevent people from shooting on Forest land.