As several wildfires raged across Southern California on a third day of excessive heat, the National Forest Service announced unprecedented closures of campgrounds and trails amid the largest fire season on record.
Through only early September, wildfires so far this year have burned more than 2 million acres in the state, surpassing 2018 for the most acres destroyed in a year, according to figures from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and Times research.
After historic high temperatures in the region over the weekend, officials with the National Forest Service announced they would temporarily close eight national forests at 5 p.m. Monday because of the extreme heat and dangerous fire conditions. Closing those recreation areas — including the Angeles, San Bernardino, Los Padres, Cleveland, Stanislaus, Sierra, Sequoia and Inyo national forests — will help reduce the potential for human-caused fires, they said.
“Existing fires are displaying extreme fire behavior … and we simply do not have enough resources to fully fight and contain every fire,” said Randy Moore, regional forester for the Forest Service.
The dramatic closure of the national forests, including all in Southern California, shuts all trails, campgrounds, roads and other developed sites in the forests. For example, hikers holding permits to hike to the summit of 14,505-foot Mt. Whitney in the Inyo National Forest will be turned back.
Hikers on the John Muir Trail or even the Pacific Crest Trail that runs through Inyo and other national forests should leave while closures are in effect, she said. The closure of the Angeles National Forest will be in effect until Sept. 14, according to an online post by agency.
The heat wave gripping Southern California eased slightly Monday — but many inland areas remained in the triple digits. Temperatures fell about 10 degrees in many areas Monday, but were still in the triple digits in the valleys and foothills. Another temperature drop is on tap for Tuesday.
The excessive heat in many parts of the region through Monday night made for explosive conditions for firefighters battling several Southern California blazes.
The Bobcat fire, which started above Azusa in the Angeles National Forest and whose cause is still under investigation, grew to at least 4,871 acres amid extreme fire danger warnings. Staffers at the Mt. Wilson Observatory were evacuated Monday morning as the flames raged toward the grounds.
Santa Ana winds are expected to blow by Tuesday morning, which has officials concerned about foothill areas to the south of the fire, including Monrovia, Arcadia, Bradbury, Sierra Madre and Duarte. Residents living in those areas should prepare for possible evacuation and be on “high alert,” said Seneca Smith, public information officer with the Angeles National Forest.
“It’s one of those things we always stress — if there is a fire anywhere near your community, just be prepared because sometimes there’s only minutes to spare,” Smith said.
Monrovia issued an evacuation warning Monday night and described the two-phase plan it would put into effect if necessary. The Sierra Madre Police Department urged residents there to make evacuation plans and “be vigilant.” The Arcadia Fire Department assured the public that it would conduct “continual overnight patrols and surveillance of our foothill interface.”
The evacuation warnings meant that owners of horses and other large animals had to begin moving them somewhere safe.
Ash from the blaze rained down along the 210 corridor and the Pasadena area Monday and prompted the South Coast Air Quality Management District to issue a smoke advisory for the foothill communities and into the Santa Clarita Valley through Monday, warning of unhealthy air for sensitive people.
In San Bernardino, the El Dorado fire continued to spread on the northeastern edge of Yucaipa. Authorities said the blaze, which has burned at least 9,671 acres and was 7% contained Monday night, was started by a “smoke-generating pyrotechnic device, used during a gender reveal party” Saturday morning at El Dorado Ranch Park. Authorities implored the public to take every precaution against starting a wildfire.
The Valley fire, roughly 30 miles east of San Diego, also grew , surpassing 17,000 acres while being 3% contained. Monday brought a new tool to the fight: military planes. CalFire is activating a standing agreement with the Navy 3rd Fleet and the 1 Marine Expeditionary Force to deploy military aircraft to fight the fire, Cal Fire spokesman Capt. Kendal Bortisser said.
The Valley fire has already destroyed 11 homes and 25 outbuildings in Japatul Valley, southeast of Alpine.
The extreme temperature over the weekend shattered records. Woodland Hills on Sunday recorded an all-time high of 121 degrees, which the National Weather Service said was the hottest temperature recorded at an official weather station in Los Angeles County.
It broke the old record of 119 degrees set in July 2006 and was one of several records to fall on Sunday. Escondido achieved an all-time high of 115 degrees, shattering a record set in 1909. Paso Robles also hit an all-time high at 117, as did Idyllwild (104) and Chino (121).
Neighborhoods across Los Angeles lost power over the weekend and crews with the L.A. Department of Water and Power worked to restore service to more than 115,000 customers as of noon Monday, according to the city department. About 32,000 customers were still without power early Monday afternoon in neighborhoods including Sylmar, East Hollywood and Leimert Park, the department said in a release.
Officials have opened dozens of cooling centers across L.A. County to help residents deal with the extreme heat.
A woman in her late 40s was hiking on a trail in the Santa Monica Mountains in Calabasas when she began to feel sick and collapsed at 2 p.m. Saturday, said L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy Juanita Navarro.
The hiker was pronounced dead at the scene. The official cause of death is still unknown, Navarro said.
Times staff writer Jaclyn Cosgrove contributed to this report.