LA PLATA COUNTY, Colo. — The entire San Juan National Forest (SJNF) will close to visitors and most employees beginning Tuesday. Officials said they are shutting down the 1.8 million acres of wilderness to “protect natural resources and public safety.”
The 416 Fire, which started in the national forest on June 1, has already scorched 22,100 acres.
“Fire danger on the SJNF remains very high due to exceptional drought and fuel conditions,” the Forest Service said in a release.
The closure will remain in effect “until the forest receives sufficient moisture to improve conditions,” the statement said.
All campgrounds, day-use areas, roads and trails will be closed within the national forest. Exemptions might be granted on a case-by-case basis with written permission from the Forest Service.
The forest area covers a large section of southwestern Colorado across nine counties.
“San Juan National Forest Supervisor Kara Chadwick wants concerned citizens to know that instituting a forest closure is an extremely difficult decision, and she is aware that the closure will affect a great many people, businesses, partner agencies, forest management activities and the public,” the Forest Service said.
SJNF Forest Fire Staff Officer Richard Bustamante described fire danger levels as “historic.”
“Under current conditions, one abandoned campfire or spark could cause a catastrophic wildfire, and we are not willing to take that chance with the natural and cultural resources under our protection and care, or with human life and property,” said Bustamante.
Violating the closure — also known as a Stage 3 Restriction — carries a mandatory appearance in federal court and is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 for an individual. Violators also face the possibility of imprisonment for up to six months.