PENDLETON — Persistent extreme hot and dry conditions, large wildfires, limited firefighting resources and concern for public safety prompted U.S. Forest Service officials on Friday, July 16, to temporarily close the entire Umatilla National Forest effective immediately.
“The objective of the closure is to proactively protect public and firefighter safety as the forest continues to actively suppress large wildfires on the forest, while also responding to new smoke reports,” according to the press release from the Umatilla National Forest.
The fire danger rating on the Umatilla National Forest is “extreme.” Hot and dry conditions have challenged firefighters battling the Lick Creek and Green Ridge fires on the Pomeroy Ranger District in the Umatilla. And on July 15 the Elbow Creek Fire emerged on the Walla Walla Ranger District, rapidly growing and threatening nearby communities. Overnight, humidity levels have remained low, allowing fires to spread actively.
“These conditions have created an unprecedented potential for extreme fire spread and intensity,” the press release stated. “With three active large wildfires on the Umatilla National Forest, compounded by multiple active large wildfires burning across the region, firefighting resources are stretched. Forest officials have implemented the closure for public and firefighter safety.”
The full closure means people are prohibited from entering any part of Umatilla National Forest at any time, including national forest lands, roads, trails and recreational facilities. County, state or federal roads are open.
Forest Service personnel will attempt to reach as many people as possible to begin vacating campsites and informing people camping in the forest. People should cancel plans to visit the Umatilla National Forest for the next several weeks. This is a temporary closure, the Forest Service stated, and staff will assess conditions and lift the closure once the unprecedented conditions moderate.
Violating closures and fire restrictions carries a mandatory appearance in federal court, punishable as a Class B misdemeanor with a fine of up to $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization, or up to six months in prison, or both.
A detailed map and description of the closure area is available on the Umatilla National Forest website and at any national forest office. Closure barriers and signs will be posted on the ground.
The National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group has elevated the National Preparedness Level to 5 — the highest level of wildland fire activity — due to significant fire activity in multiple areas, an increase in incident management team mobilization and heavy shared resource commitment to large fires nationally.
Several geographic areas are experiencing large, complex wildland fire incidents, which have the potential to exhaust national wildland firefighting resources.
The latest fire information will be posted on the Blue Mountains Fire Information Blog. To receive updates on fires in the Blue Mountains, follow the blog at bluemountainfireinfo.blogspot.com/.
More information about the Umatilla National Forest is available at www.fs.usda.gov/umatilla.