(CBS4) – Historic wildfire activity in Colorado prompted the U.S. Forest Service to temporarily close all national forest land in Clear Creek, Jefferson, Gilpin, Boulder and Larimer counties. The closure begins at midnight on Oct. 21.
A violation carries a potential fine of up to $5,000 and six-months in prison.
“It became clear to us that this was the path that we needed to take and we do not take it lightly,” said Reid Armstrong, a Public Affairs Specialist for the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests. “We are in extreme drought conditions right now and what we need is enough snow and enough moisture to really change those small fine fuels.”
The Rocky Mountain Coordination Center says nearly 442,000 acres of land in Colorado and Wyoming are being affected by the wildfires.
“I ask all of our local residents and visitors to take these closures and evacuations seriously to allow our firefighters to focus on the mission of safely suppressing the existing fires,” said Forest Supervisor Monte Williams.
The Forest Service says the decision to close the land comes in an effort to help thousands of firefighters working to put fires, like the Cameron Peak, CalWood and Lefthand Canyon fires, out. Officials also hope the order prevents new fires from starting.
“For us this is unprecedented circumstances,” Armstrong said. “We’re really going to look to the public to enforce the rules and do the right thing. It’s a hard ask but what we really want people to do is have the local community lead the way so that we can enforce this with the greater public.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Colorado’s National Forests have seen huge increases of use. People have been flocking to the public lands for off-roading, hiking, biking, fishing, camping and more.
“Outdoor recreation is essential. We are really asking people to find other places to recreate, other places to walk their dog,” Armstrong said.
The closures pose a big impact on hunters in Colorado. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife is said to be communicating with hunters who have valid hunting licenses for these areas.
“Hunters with tags in Game Management Units (GMUs) 29, 38 and 39 will be affected,” CPW announced shortly after the USFS announcement.
Those hunters will be given information on how to get a refund on their tag. The temporary closures will be evaluated daily, but significant moisture will be needed to change the dry fuels in the forest.