The U.S. Forest Service has opened thousands of acres in the burn scar of the Chetco Bar Fire after hearing numerous complaints from the public, who feared much of the area would be closed forever.
Sixty-two percent of the road-miles that were closed in the 191,125-acre burn area are now open, as is about 65 percent of the acreage, said public affairs specialist Chamise Kramer.
“We heard the public’s concerns about access to their national forest and reduced the size of closed areas to improve access,” said Tina Lanier, Gold Beach district ranger. “We understand closures can be a major inconvenience, and we will continue to reduce the size of closures as conditions improve.”
Numerous roads were closed in the backcountry after the fire was extinguished, primarily to protect people from burned trees that might fall and landslides from October’s rainfall.
That didn’t sit well with many users of the national forest, particularly with the Curry County Citizens for Public Land Access and the Chetco Bar Fire-Curry Prevention and Recovery groups, who met numerous times to discuss how to ensure future access.
Lanier and Rogue River/Siskiyou National Forest Supervisor Rob MacWhorter spent last week visiting the burned areas to assess hazards and determine which areas could be opened.
The Forest Service started closing road access to the backcountry Aug. 17 when the fire was active. When the fire was contained Nov. 2, crews headed in to access the damage and determine what restoration was needed.
Lanier said the Forest Service had to temporarily close the areas to protect the public, and even though many acres and roads are now open, danger still exists, in the form of falling trees, rolling debris, landslides, road failures and smoldering roots.
All remaining area, road and trail closures are temporary, she stated.
“They are not permanent,” Lanier said. “Any road closure barriers will be removed when they are no longer needed.”
The first people allowed in were Forest Service employees and contractors who began the dangerous work of felling burned trees. They are still addressing dangerous trees along roads that access recreation areas, trailheads and popular hunting and fishing areas.
The first areas to be reopened, Nov. 21, were the Chetco River Road for day use along the river, including Miller, Nook and Redwood bars and the South Fork Bluffs recreation site.
Opening the Chetco River Road corridor became a priority for the Forest Service because residents within the fire area needed to commute to and from work, and timber companies were salvaging burned timber on their lands upstream from the closure area, Lanier said. In addition, local fishing guides expressed concern about losing business, following a difficult summer because of wildfires.
Other areas that were temporarily closed and are now open include the Game Lake Campground and most of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area.
The Chetco Bar Fire affected hundreds of miles of roads in the national forest. Forest managers continue to prioritize the roads within the burn area, with major roads, pullouts and places where people are likely to park being the highest priority.
Those heading into the forest are urged to call the Gold Beach Ranger Station at 541-247-3600 to ensure their destination is not within a closure area. Additional information, including closure changes, trail status and weather warnings, can be found on the district’s website at www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/rogue-siskiyou or on Facebook.
Reach Jane Stebbins at firstname.lastname@example.org.