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U.S. Forest Officials Could Extend Ban On Campfires

High temperatures and low humidity could prompt Stanislaus National Forest officials to extend a ban on campfires, charcoal burning and smoking to higher forest elevations as early as this week, a forest spokesman said Friday.

Forest officials are expected to consider expanding fire restrictions to everything below 7,000 or 8,000 feet, up from current prohibitions in areas as high as 6,500 feet, forest spokesman Pat Kaunert said.

He said the fire threat is as severe as it has been in more than 30 years.

Campfires, briquette barbeques and smoking outside of developed campgrounds in lower elevations of the forest have been prohibited since early July. An expansion of the ban would prohibit the same flames in higher, wetter elevations, Kaunert said.

He said forest officials have not considered closing parts of the forest, as has been done in Southern California, where open fires have been banned and tens of thousands of acres in the foothills were closed as of Monday because of intensely high fire danger from drought and heat.

Kaunert said Stanislaus National Forrest campers have complied with and not complained about the restrictions.

But in San Bernardino, some complain the new rules and other forest restrictions across the Southwest are blocking their right to enjoy the outdoors.

On her way to swim in a creek with her kids and their friends, Shelley Borynack said the San Bernardino closures seemed especially unfair, because her family doesn´t set fires to cook when they camp, instead eating jerky and trail mix. They have been disappointed by past shutdowns when fires threatened the area.

“My husband and my sons hunt, and it´s kind of hard because the year before last, we paid for all the hunting gear, all the tags, the licenses. We paid for everything, and then right before the season started, they closed down,” Borynack said.

Forest officials said the latest restrictions were essential to prevent a repeat of the devastating wildfires across Southern California last fall that blackened more than 750,000 acres, destroyed 3,650 homes and killed 24 people.

Their fears were heightened by fires last month that burned about 50,000 acres and destroyed nine homes in the region. The blazes were unprecedented this early in the fire season.

San Bernardino is the only national forest to be partly shut, though campfires were banned in some Arizona and New Mexico forests in May and June.