Fire concerns lead to closings at Isabella, Kern River grounds

PHOTO COURTESY OF AMY NELSON
With an extreme heatwave hitting Southern California this Labor Day weekend, campers flocked to the Kern River Valley.

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With resources at a premium in the Valley and conditions ripe for a devastating fire, the Sequoia National Forest and camping areas around Lake Isabella and along the Kern River were closed to visitors on Monday.

The shutdown, ordered by the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region, also includes nearby Inyo National Forest along with Stanislaus National Forest, Sierra National Forest, Los Padres National Forest, Angeles National Forest, San Bernardino National Forest, and Cleveland National Forest.

In addition, all developed campgrounds and day-use areas, forest roads and trails, in national forests throughout the state were closed, and the National Forest Service (NFS) prohibited the use of any ignition source (campfires, gas stoves, etc.) on NFS lands throughout California.

“Due to current fire activity, expected weather forecast, and limited resources, it is important these precautions be taken to protect the valley,” Al Watson of the Kern River Ranger District said.

Extreme heat, significant wind events and dry conditions saw the National Weather Service issue a red flag warning on Labor Day for Lake Isabella’s mountain area, Tehachapi and Fort Tejon. Yet, despite conditions, thousands of people camped along the valley’s river banks and Lake Isabella this Labor Day weekend and had to be asked to leave by NFS rangers on Monday. The forest service controls all camping along the river and lake in the valley.

“They are doing what they need to do to protect us all and I completely agree with them,” Fred Clark, president of the Kern Valley Chamber of Commerce, said on Monday.
The Kern River District covers 663,000 acres and includes 25 campgrounds and 10 developed day-use areas.

“The wildfire situation throughout California is dangerous and must be taken seriously,” Randy Moore, regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region said. “Existing fires are displaying extreme fire behavior, new fire starts are likely, weather conditions are worsening, and we simply do not have enough resources to fully fight and contain every fire.”

The forest service will re-evaluate the shutdown order daily.
“We are bringing every resource to bear nationally and internationally to fight these fires, but until conditions improve, and we are confident that National Forest visitors can recreate safely, the priority is always to protect the public and our firefighters,” Moore said. “With these extreme conditions, these temporary actions will help us do both.”

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