Wildfire concerns prompt some SoCal park closures for Fourth of July

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Concerns about increased fire danger sparked by the Fourth of July holiday have prompted the closure of at least two Southern California parklands.

The 1,200-acre North Etiwanda Preserve in Rancho Cucamonga will be closed from 8 p.m. Friday until 6:30 a.m. Tuesday due to increased fire danger, officials said.

The closure is necessary “to provide for public safety and prevent the ignition of a wildfire that can damage or destroy the natural resources of the region,” the city of Rancho Cucamonga said in a statement.

Additionally, portions of the Angeles National Forest, including Millard Campground, will be closed from Friday through Thursday. The Chaney Road gate to the Millard Day Use Area and the campground will be closed to vehicular traffic those days.

The closures arrive amid significantly dry conditions that have left many fire officials worried about the potential spread of flames. The first three months of the year were the driest ever recorded in California, leaving fuel moisture levels — or the amount of moisture in the vegetation — dangerously low.

Southern California fire officials last month warned that the region’s vegetation was at least four months ahead of where it should be in terms of dryness, meaning large swaths of the landscape are easy fuel for flames.

In an effort to prevent a worst-case scenario, city, county and state officials have vowed to crack down on the use of illegal fireworks over the holiday weekend.

“Illegal fireworks still remain a major threat to public safety in California,” Chief Mike Richwine of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said during a news conference Thursday.

Richwine said illegal fireworks include skyrockets, bottle rockets, Roman candles, aerial shells, M-80s or “anything that will be propelled into the air, explode or travel across the ground uncontrollably.”

“Again, with this drought and our risk for wildfires, we will not tolerate such dangerous, illegal products in our state,” he said. “Remember, one less spark this Fourth of July means one less fire or wildfire.”

Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer this week said similarly that officials would be on the lookout for illegal fireworks.

“The risk of devastating, quickly spreading fires sparked by fireworks is severe this year, not to mention the ever-present threat of serious, life-altering injuries,” Feuer said. “That’s why we’re starting early this year, cracking down and urging Angelenos to leave fireworks to the pros.”

In a statement about the North Etiwanda Preserve closure, Rancho Cucamonga Fire Marshal Rob Ball described the area as a “local treasure and a historically important place within our community.”

“Those among us who insist on using fireworks over the Fourth of July holiday put our homes and our open space recreation areas at risk of destruction from a wildfire started by fireworks,” Ball said.

Angeles National Forest spokeswoman Dana Dierkes said conditions heading into the holiday weekend were parched. Last month, the Sheep fire inside the Angeles National Forest grew to 865 acres amid heavy dry vegetation.

“Fireworks are prohibited on public lands — every forest, every campsite, every day,” she said, adding that “when people don’t bring fireworks, that’s how we can help keep everyone safe.”

She said all existing closures remain in place, including the area closed by the 2020 Bobcat fire.

Fire danger this season extends beyond public parklands. Earlier this week, California’s largest lumber company, Sierra Pacific Industries, announced that it is closing its forests to public access starting Friday due to wildfire concerns. The closures could last through the fall, officials said.

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