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80% of Angeles Forest Will Close Due to Fire Risk

September 25, 2004|Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writer

Another bone-dry autumn, another fire season is underway.

As firefighters battled a blaze in Los Padres National Forest, authorities announced that starting Monday, about 80% of Angeles National Forest will be closed to visitors because of the high risk of fire.

"We are trying to avoid a repeat of last year," said Sherry Rollman, spokeswoman for Angeles National Forest.

This is the third major closure for the forest in the last three years. In 2001, the forest closed for 30 days. Last year, public access was prohibited for 11 days.

This time, hikers, campers and other outdoor enthusiasts probably won't be allowed to return until there is "significant rainfall over a sustained period," Rollman said.

The Angeles Crest Highway, a major route for commuters between Antelope Valley and the Los Angeles Basin, will stay open, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Pyramid Lake, the Mt. Baldy area in San Antonio Canyon and most of the San Gabriel Canyon will also stay open because their proximity to paved highways allows for quick evacuations, officials said. But public access to those areas will be restricted to 1/8 mile on either side of the road.

All hiking trails will be closed. Off-limits to visitors will be Chantry Flats, Upper Westfork, Millard, the Clear Creek area and camps along Santa Clara Divide Road.

Violators could be fined up to $5,000 and face up to six months in jail.

Forestry officials blame the extremely dry conditions for their caution.

This year's fire season in Southern California could be just as bad as last year's, experts warned. Last year, forest fires in the region killed 26 people, burned more than 738,000 acres and destroyed more than 3,600 homes.

Fueling the risks are many factors, including tree-killing pests and persistent dry weather that have turned the forests of brush and timber into piles of kindling.

The Southland will be sunny this weekend, with highs in the 90s in inland areas, according to the National Weather Service. Next week, coastal fog and sea breezes will cool the region to the 70s, weather specialist Bruce Rockwell said.

But the lower temperatures won't be enough to reduce the risk of a major fire, forestry officials said. Typical for this time of year, there is no rainfall in sight. The rainy season usually doesn't start until November, Rockwell said.

On Friday, nearly 700 firefighters battled flames in Los Padres National Forest that burned 850 acres.

The fire, which flared up Wednesday night, is burning in the Ventana Wilderness area, about 20 miles west of King City.

Authorities evacuated the Arroyo Seco campground, which remains closed.

The fire has not destroyed or threatened any buildings.

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Associated Press contributed to this report.

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