Ex­treme fire danger forces an­other na­tional for­est to close

The Myanmar Times - - World -

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 U.S. 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 miles of trails and thou­sands of miles of back roads to hik­ers, bik­ers, horse­back rid­ers and campers as soon as Tues­day to pre­vent the possibility of an aban­doned camp­fire or any other spark from start­ing a wild­fire. It’s the first full clo­sure of a na­tional for­est in Colorado since 2002, which was an­other very dry year.

The clo­sure will 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 June 1 in the for­est and spread to about 35 square miles (91 square kilo­me­ters) as of Mon­day. Author­i­ties are still in­ves­ti­gat­ing how the fire started.

No homes have been lost al­though the fire came close to build­ings Sun­day night, author­i­ties said. Fire man­agers cred­ited ad­vance fire mit­i­ga­tion work by home­own­ers for help­ing fire­fight­ers save the struc­tures.

Much of the U.S. 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 June 1 be­cause of the fire danger. The Santa Fe for­est is among New Mex­ico’s most pop­u­lar get­aways.

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

Por­tions of na­tional forests in Ari­zona were also closed in late May be­cause of se­vere fire con­di­tions.

Full for­est clo­sures are not com­mon and the For­est Ser­vice stresses they’re only done as a last re­sort.

The Co­conino Na­tional For­est in Ari­zona shut down com­pletely be­cause of fire danger in 2006 for nine days. A 2002 shut­down lasted nine weeks, in­clud­ing both Me­mo­rial Day and July 4 hol­i­days, and other na­tional forests had clo­sures that year.

Colorado’s lat­est clo­sure will also bar non-recre­ational uses, al­though ranch­ers, for ex­am­ple, who use some of the for­est’s over 2,800 square miles (7,252 square kilo­me­ters) for graz­ing will be able to seek ex­emp­tions, San Juan Na­tional For­est spokes­woman Cam Hoo­ley said.

If any ex­emp­tions are granted, those users would be re­quired to take pre­cau­tions, such as car­ry­ing wa­ter, shov­els and fire ex­tin­guish­ers and pos­si­bly only al­lowed in dur­ing cer­tain times of the day, she said.

“We rec­og­nize that this is dif­fi­cult for the lo­cal busi­nesses and the lo­cal econ­omy and just ask that peo­ple just be un­der­stand­ing and pa­tient,” Hoo­ley said.

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.

One of the main tourist at­trac­tions, a his­toric scenic rail­road that takes rid­ers through the ma­jes­tic San Juan Moun­tains in the for­est, has sus­pended its ser­vice and fur­loughed its sea­sonal work­ers. It may re­open later this month with diesel en­gines to re­place its tra­di­tional coal-fired lo­co­mo­tives that can throw sparks.

Sweetie Mar­bury, the mayor of nearby Du­rango — about 10 miles from the fire — said there are plenty of things peo­ple can do in the area, in­clud­ing river raft­ing, cy­cling and fish­ing and learn­ing about his­tory at places like Mesa Verde and Chim­ney Rock Na­tional Mon­u­ment.

“We are re­silient in Du­rango. We bounce back,” she said. – AP

Photo: AP

This June 10, 2018, satel­lite image pro­vide by Dig­i­talGlobe shows the 416 Fire north­west of Her­mosa, Colo. At right High­way 550 is vis­i­ble.

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