USA — A very dry winter and spring, coupled with extremely dry conditions and spring winds, warranted the Lincoln National Forest to impose a forest fire closure order effective 8 a.m., May 1.
The LNF closure order was signed Tuesday by Acting Forest Supervisor Jacqueline Buchanan.
“Extremely dry conditions have warranted closure of the entire Lincoln National Forest,” Buchanan said. “Closures in the past have proven to be an effective means of reducing the number of human-caused fires. While campfire and smoking restrictions have been effective in terms of minimizing the number of fires, we are at the point that we cannot afford the risk of any human-caused fires. We are not only concerned about the risk to communities and natural resources, we are concerned about the potential difficulties evacuating recreationists from remote areas should a wildfire start.”
To implement the closure, fire prevention and law enforcement personnel will patrol the Lincoln National Forest. Signs and barricades will be placed on roads and entrance points. Existing gates will be closed, check-points will be staffed.
The Lincoln National Forest last closed on May 2, 2006, until rains allowed for the order to be lifted on June 30 of that year.
According to Buck Sanchez, Smokey Bear District Ranger, this is one of the driest winter seasons in recorded forest history, which will lead to increased and abnormal fire behavior if present trends continue.
Fire restrictions and closures are carefully considered before they are implemented. The forest supervisor considers environmental conditions, projected weather, resistance to control and the amount of resources available to fight fires and ensure public safety before restricting or closing the forest.
Neighboring land managers are consulted and coordinated with so that shifts in recreation pressure don’t cause unnecessary impacts. Forest officials try to phase in restrictions and closures to minimize disruptions to the recreating public and effects on local economies.
Sanchez says the Energy Release Component, an index of fuel moisture, is showing values normally seen in June.
“The Pepper Fire, which recently burned more than 640 acres on the Lincoln Forest, indicates the type of season we are likely in for,” he said. “Continued abnormally dry weather lead forecasters to expect continued dry conditions across the Southwest. No measurable rain has fallen on the Lincoln National Forest since January 2008.
The Lincoln National Forest began fire restrictions March 31, 2008, which is considered early. Yet, restrictions alone will not prevent all fires. Other ignition sources include lightning and power lines.
In the last 10 years, there were 195 human-caused fires versus 350 lighting-caused fires in the Lincoln Forest. So far this year, there have been six human-caused fires and no natural ones. Two-thirds of all fires in the Lincoln National Forest occur in May, June and July.
The Sacramento Ranger District concessionaire campgrounds, along with the Sun-spot Astronomy and Visitor s Center will remain open.
Guests who utilize the forest concessionaire campgrounds are reminded they cannot access Forest lands for recreation purposes. Also, within the concessionaire campgrounds the use of petroleum-fueled stoves for cooking purposes, along with lanterns or heating devices are authorized because these devices are not considered fires, provided such devices meet the Fire Underwriter s specifications for safety.
The following Sacramento Ranger District concessionaire campgrounds will remain open: Silver, Saddle, Apache, Sleepy Grass, Deerhead, Pines campground and the Aspen Group, Black Bear Group, Slide Group and Fir Group sites.
The following areas are closed: Trestle Recreation Area, Karr Canyon Picnic Site, Sleepy Grass Picnic Site, Upper Karr Campground, all vistas, alltrailheads and all dispersed sites.
The use of all other campgrounds, day-use picnic areas and cabins on the forest are closed.
All National Forest System Roads will be closed, but all interstates, state and county roads through the Lincoln National Forest will remain open.
The following applies to the Smokey Bear, Sacramento and Guadalupe Ranger Districts: Areas closed to public use are all National Forest lands outlined on maps designating the specific areas and hereby made a part of the closing order.
The following persons are exempt from this order:
Any federal, state or local officer or member of an organized rescue or firefighting force in the performance of an official duty.
Residents living within the closed area and their guests, landowners or lessees of land within the closed area for access to their owned or leased property.
Persons engaged in a business delivering goods, packages or services to private property or contractors performing services for the government.
Persons with a written and approved entry permit or authorization letter, i.e., Gra-zing Permittees.
Contact the Forest Super-visor or District Ranger Officer for additional information on restrictions or special use permit availability.
The use of fireworks is strictly prohibited on all Nat-ional Forest System Lands.
The Lincoln National Forest will reopen to the public when sufficient precipitation is re-ceived to adequately reduce the extremely dry conditions and reduce the risk of wildfire to a manageable level.
A significant amount of moisture will be required to reduce the extreme fire danger on the Lincoln National Forest.
The area closures do not affect federal and state highways that lead into the mountain communities. Do not stop on the sides of any highways.
Contact the local chambers of commerce or arts councils for the City of Alamogordo, City of Ruidoso Downs and the Villages of Cloudcroft, Tularosa, Ruidoso, Mayhill, Sacramento, Weed, Timberon, Capitan and Queen to obtain a calendar of events that may be affected by forest closure.
Visitors, however, are still encouraged to visit these mountain communities.
“Even though the forest is closed, this closure action is not permanent, said Ruidoso Mayor L. Ray Nunley. “We encourage visitors to visit Ruidoso and our mountain communities and remind them that safety for our visitors and citizens is first and foremost.
Special events occurring in the Ruidoso area over the next several months include the Annual Smokey Bear Days, May 2-3, in Capitan; the Aspencash Motorcycle Run & Trade Show at the Ruidoso Convention Center, May 15-18, and the opening of Ruidoso Downs Racetrack on May 23.
Violations of forest regulations are punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for an organization or imprisonment for not more than six months or both.