Shifting road and forest closures caused by several wildfires in the Mendocino National Forest are expected to make for confusing, potentially frustrating, times for hunters as the deer rifle season opens Saturday in affected parts of the forest, authorities said.
But hunters and other recreational users barred from some of the most popular spots need to be patient, officials said, as fire suppression and mop-up continues in some areas and officials close others because of safety and environmental concerns.
"Fire suppression activities are affected by numerous factors, and even after the fire is contained it may not be safe for the public to enter the area due to active fire and snags," Mendocino National Forest Supervisor Sherry Tune said in a written statement.
"We will open the areas when we are confident that the conditions in the area are no longer a threat and the resources have sufficiently stabilized."
Many areas of the North Pass and Mill fire zones will be closed until spring, allowing scarred areas to "season over" and ensuring invisible hazards like burning stumps don't pose a risk, Mendocino National Forest spokeswoman Tamara Schmidt said.
"Our first priority is for public and firefighter safety right now," she said.
Perhaps offsetting continuing closures in the national forest proper, forest service officials have reopened a portion of the southern Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness northeast of Covelo, where the North Pass Fire has consumed 41,983 acres since Aug. 18.
But access around the fire perimeter is still restricted, and the hottest zones are expected to burn until winter brings enough rain or snow to douse them, Schmidt said.
There are risks associated with fire; the ongoing need to use limited, narrow, rugged roads for large fire apparatus; and the need to protect water quality and charred landscape from erosion that make closures necessary, officials said.
The Mill Fire burned 29,502 acres west of Stonyford and north of Clear Lake in July, including popular off-road vehicle trails.
There are dangers associated with sharp, black spikes that are all that remain of acres of burned bushes, Schmidt said.
And even though the Mill Fire was contained weeks ago, "you can still have some hot spots in there," Schmidt said.
Violation of a closure order is punishable by fines of between $5,000 and $10,000, up to six months imprisonment or both, officials said.
Those interested in visiting the forest can seek additional information at www.fs.usda.gov/mendocino or by calling the Mendocino National Forest at 530-934-3316, the Covelo District Office 983-6118, or the Stonyford Work Center at 530-963-3128.
You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.