Sequoia National Forest
U.S. Forest Service
1839 S. Newcomb St
Porterville, CA 93257
Pacific Southwest Region
Regional Order No. 20-20
I have decided to issue Regional Order No. 20-20 to prohibit going into or being upon National Forest System lands, roads and trails in the following National Forests: Angeles NF, Cleveland NF, Los Padres NF, and San Bernardino NF. This order will be in effect from October 2, 2020, through October 8, 2020. This Regional Order will protect natural resources and provide for the safety of forest visitors by preventing them from getting trapped on National Forest System lands during emergency circumstances. This Regional Order supersedes Regional Order No. 20-19, which I issued on September 30, 2020.
California is experiencing an unprecedented and dire fire season. There are 18 National Forests in California, totaling approximately 20 million acres. Currently, 13 of 18 National Forests in the Pacific Southwest Region in California have large fires. Nearly all fires are now large, “complex” fires (a series of fires in close proximity to one another that have burned into a single large unit). In a typical fire season, California will see some 300,000 acres burn. This year, more than 3 million acres have already burned statewide.
There are 22 large complex fires that continue to burn on National Forests in various parts of the state, including the August Complex on the Mendocino NF, the North Complex in Northern California, the Creek Fire on the Sierra NF, the El Dorado Fire on the San Bernardino NF, the Bobcat Fire on the Angeles NF, the Dolan Fire on the Los Padres NF, SQF Complex on the Sequoia NF, and the Valley Fire on the Cleveland NF. Each of these fires continue to be very active with containment ranging from 15% to 60%.
This closure order is needed to continue to address public and employee safety associated with these large fires, which are burning on the forests covered by this order. Not only are fire conditions continuing to pose challenges in these areas, but firefighting resources in these areas remain depleted. All local crews are currently assigned to firefighting activities, and all available resources, such as engines, aircrafts, etc., have been assigned to active fires. This closure will provide a tactical advantage and allow resource allocation and firefighting activities an opportunity to get ahead of these fires while protecting the public and Forest Service employees. Meanwhile, in other parts of the state, some units are beginning to experience favorable weather conditions. Therefore, this Regional Order applies only to a subset of National Forests in the Pacific Southwest Region where fire conditions and resource availability remain at critical levels.
It is also important to note that we have recently experienced two line-of-duty fatalities of firefighters in California. One was a Forest Service firefighter on the San Bernardino National Forest and the other, a contract firefighter on the August Complex fire, Mendocino National Forest. These tragic events are a testament to the risks and true cost of the situation this Regional Order is attempting to address.
To date this year in Southern California there have been 555 wildfires burning 197,443 acres of National Forest System lands. Extreme fire behavior and dangerous rates of spread are possible at any time of day. Looking ahead, the potential for extreme fire activity is likely to continue until enough precipitation occurs to significantly increase fuel moisture. Fires currently burning on National Forests in Southern California include: El Dorado on the San Bernardino NF, Bobcat on the Angeles NF, Dolan on the Los Padres NF, and Valley on the Cleveland NF.
Across the state, weather conditions continue to be volatile, leading to increased potential for fire starts and rapid spread. Unusually hot temperatures and gusty wind conditions are also posing significant challenges to firefighting operations.
Nationally, and within California, firefighting resources are operating at maximum capacity and there are significant shortages of resources. Nationally, there are very few Incident Management Teams available to respond to large-scale blazes. All fire engines and major firefighting equipment are already assigned to existing fires or positioned to prevent new fire starts from escaping initial attack. This situation means that should additional fires break, the agency may not be able to respond in a timely manner, further risking life and property.
This scarcity of resources has caused the Forest Service to seek assistance from the U.S. Army as well as other countries including Canada, Mexico, and Australia. Two hundred and thirty-three soldiers from the 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion based out of Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington, are deployed in support of the August Complex. Two MAFFS C-130 airtankers and support personnel each from the 153rd Airlift Wing (Wyoming Air National Guard) and the 152nd Airlift Wing (Nevada Air National Guard) have been deployed to support other wildland fire operations in California. One fire suppression crew and one overhead personnel from Canada are supporting fire suppression efforts in northern California.
To further add to the complexity of this fire season, National Forests in California have seen record numbers of visitors this summer. Reports indicate that use levels normally associated with peak holidays such as Memorial Day and the 4th of July are being seen every day throughout the summer. This level of visitation held true on Labor Day weekend as well. Campgrounds and dispersed use areas are reportedly full to capacity and overflowing. Overflow parking from parking areas have spilled into roadways. Conflicts between use groups have increased, as has criminal activity. And trash and human waste are collecting faster than staffs are able to clear and clean facilities. These visitor use levels and related management issues further exacerbate a challenging fire situation creating a heightened level of risk.
For example, on the San Bernardino and Angeles National Forests, there are major roads leading up steep canyons accessing remote communities and forest areas. On most days this summer, forest recreation areas were so crowded that parked cars along roadsides blocked traffic. In more than one such instance, emergency vehicles were prevented from accessing those in need because of the crowds.
This Regional Order includes an exemption for persons holding a Forest Permit for Use of Roads, Trails, or Areas Restricted by Regulation or Order (Form FS-7700-48). Authorization under this exemption will only be provided if I or my delegate determine that the risk to personal health and safety is reasonable considering the circumstances of the request. We may also require appropriate personal protective equipment and other necessary safety measures. I hereby delegate the authority to sign Form FS-7700-48 granting an exemption to this Regional Order to Forest Supervisors on the Cleveland NF, Angeles NF, San Bernardino NF, and Los Padres NF.
I have concluded that this decision may be categorically excluded from documentation in an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or Environmental Assessment (EA) under the National Environmental Policy Act. This action falls within the category identified in 36 CFR 220.6(d)(1) – prohibitions to provide short-term resource protection or to protect public health and safety – and does not require documentation in a decision memo, decision notice, or record of decision. I have determined that there are no extraordinary circumstances associated with this temporary closure.
XSigned by: RANDY MOORE
RANDY MOORE Regional Forester Pacific Southwest Region
Enclosure – Regional Order No. 20-20