They outlawed walking in the forest. They said it was too dangerous.
They told me it was “critical” that I didn’t walk in the woods for my “own safety” and that of others.
They said the conditions in other places of the world were exceptionally hot and dry and windy and very dangerous and that wildfires were burning in ways nobody alive had ever witnessed and more havoc would come and firefighters could not stop it.
And so they outlawed walking in the Santa Ynez Mountains in Santa Barbara. They said it was too dangerous.
In the days following the forest closure here hundreds of thousands of people elsewhere in California and Oregon found themselves under varying degrees of emergency evacuation orders. Thousands of structures and hundreds of homes burned and many people died and several people were arrested for setting fires.
They closed the entire Los Padres National Forest the day after temperatures reached 117 degrees in Santa Barbara County and many days after meteorologists had warned of the coming heat wave.
They closed the forest at 5 p.m. on Labor Day Monday. One hour before the end of the heat wave that broke records in some places.
“Good move,” somebody said.
“A bit late,” said another.
Cool fog filled the air the morning after they closed the forest.
I sat reading in the chill morning bundled in sweat pants and long sleeves and a beanie and I could hear falling drops of occult precipitation hitting the ground in that moist muffled quiet.
September is typically a hot month in Santa Barbara and for a few days it was, indeed, very hot. But now we had maritime fog like the seasonal phenomenon of May gray and June gloom.
The marine layer flowed in off the Pacific over the city and pooled against the Santa Ynez Mountains up and down the coast along the back of town.
Temperatures varied in the seventies and for the next week we woke to cool and moist foggy mornings that blurred into mild and calm afternoons.
The fog burned off each day to reveal a high ceiling of depthless gray of varying hues. We didn’t see blue in the sky again after the holiday.
For days smoke from distant fires covered the sky like high clouds. The sun shown through in that dread orangey-red hue that is the telltale sign of wildfire and the shadows on the ground took on a purplish opalescence.
The smoke settled in and smothered the town in an unhealthful gray-blue haze that lurked through the days and ebbed and flowed like the tide.
Society simmered like a cauldron on a bonfire of angst and fear and loathing, kindled and stoked by the fright and grief of the pandemic and the enormity of 190,000 dead with no end in sight and the flames fanned by a whirlwind of racial and political discord, protests and riots and arson and killings in the street and vandalism and the destruction of hundreds of private businesses.
A coming presidential election more divisive and contentious and fraught than any in living history fired the already simmering social pot to a roiling boil.
People were at each other’s throats.
The fire-lit city streets ran with blood and tears.
Mesa Lane beach barricade.
They outlawed sitting on a beach in Santa Barbara a few days before they outlawed walking in the forest. They said it was too dangerous.
On a sunny Labor Day weekend during a heat wave when it hit 117 degrees in the Santa Ynez Valley and a 100 degrees in Santa Barbara.
They said for my own safety and that of others, because of the novel coronavirus, it was critical that I not sit on the beach.
So I didn’t sit on the beach. I paced around as permitted, like other people, zombies traipsing aimless and lackluster up and down the shoreline.
Groups of people sat filling the chairs and tables gabbing away without masks at the seaside Boathouse restaurant behind me, right on the edge of the beach, just back from the sand.
I opened an umbrella on the sand near the waterline to shade a gallon of water while I swam with my wife and three children.
The ranger drove his 4×4 vehicle over and made me fold up the umbrella.
The sign posted in the sand explicitly outlawed umbrellas, the item mentioned by name, contraband.
The next day they outlawed walking in the forest. They said it was too dangerous.
The snake appeared to have nabbed the rodent and then something (tire?) smashed both of them dead.
We sat at a dead stop each in our own truck facing in opposite directions in the middle of Paradise Road.
We looked at each other through our side windows over the painted line of the center divider.
I wasn’t going to say anything.
I had just finished guzzling some water from a gallon container when the ranger pulled up.
“Hello. Are you aware of the forest closure?” she said finally.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said.
“Sooo are you driving out of the canyon orrr. . .” she said trailing off.
I had been driving into the canyon.
“I don’t answer questions,” I said.
She said some more words.
I wasn’t going to say anything.
Then she started in again with the questions.
“Where are you going?” she said.
“I don’t answer questions,” I said.
“You have no legal right to ask me anything and I’m under no obligation to tell you anything,” I said.
“Why are you asking where I’m going?” I said.
I was in my vehicle minding my own business. She drives up and starts questioning me and carries on with it as if I was not allowed to be there.
“I know the law. I’m well within my rights,” I said. “There’s no problem here.”
This is what I felt necessary to tell her in response to the manner in which she continued to press me with questions about my intentions.
She drove off not too soon. Not before picking a good haggle with me.
I wasn’t going to say anything.
Lines to food banks stretched for miles.
Folks waited for hours for basic necessities.
People argued over face masks and the proper etiquette of social distancing in public spaces and fistfights broke out and people killed each other over these things.
The collateral damage mounted from government mandated prohibitions and inside lockdowns and outside lockouts, enclosures and exclosures, separation and isolation, the shuttering of businesses and economic ruin and financial hardship.
The stress pooled deeper. A rising tide of tumult.
People in search of safe harbor and escape.
News articles piled up daily in the press about increasing mental health problems and dependencies and addictions and overdoses and suicides and domestic violence and other violent crimes.
People were losing their minds.
Santa Barbara backcountry
I read of an ambulance ride posted by Roger the Scanner Guy of a “Cal Star Transport to Cottage, Heroin overdose North County.” A friend died that day. He left behind a young child.
My grandfather died. We had planned to visit my grandmother in March of this year.
Then the virus arrived in the United States and everything ground to a halt and we called it off and hunkered at home as if in a bunker.
We were thankful again for a home and our health and for a moment at least we didn’t take everything for granted so much.
I am afraid to visit my grandma. We might bring the virus to her in our interstate travels through airports and whatnot, a death sentence at her age. But how much longer does she have?
My mom drank herself to death. My stepdad died of cancer not long afterward. That’s bad, but not to say I have it any worse than everybody else. Nonetheless, my brother lives under a bush, out of his mind, a panhandler on the corner, helpless and unhelpable. I see him out there drifting in a parallel dimension. He’s the one wearing the florescent dayglo safety vest.
My younger sister and her boyfriend have a young child. They had recently by some stroke of miraculous luck secured a home. But then came the virus and the lockdowns and closures and the pay checks stopped.
How long can people tread water?
They outlawed walking in the forest. They said it was too dangerous.
Forest Service Temporarily Closes Southern California National Forests, Adds Prohibitions in Others
Just a general comment here to whomever it may interest:
Maybe my post here was read to be more critical than I had any interest in coming across.
I did not mean for this post to be a critical hit piece about the Forest Service or even critical commentary about virus containment and mitigation policies.
The piece was intended to note objective facts regarding these two issues involving recreation, and then offer my own experiences within that context.
Some “official” person in a moment of most likely a mental lapse uttered the statement that the lock-downs, or better said “lock-ups”, would likely end when the election was over on November 3rd. That of course presupposes that Biden will win. All bets are off if Trump is re-elected as more and more that seems likely.
And They just extended the closure So it’s still not safe for you to be walking in the woods.
Jack, it is of course absurd that the forests, back country and beaches are deemed dangerous to you and others and that you must not be there. The opposite is true, isn’t it. You would be safer in those places than anywhere else, especially since you are either alone or with your immediate family. But power is being exercised now (arguably in violation of the US Constitution) by governors and their various bureaucrats, and “rangers” and the like, at odds with our rights as individual American citizens. I am very glad that you refused to answer questions there on the wilderness trail. This is the problem: will anyone stand up for his rights in the face of uniformed guards? Well, you did! California has a veil of authoritarianism cast upon it amidst the pandemic. Alas, it isn’t alone in this, but California seems to have it in spades.
It is terrible to think that our last (and First!) refuge on this earth, the wilds of the back country, can be cordoned off by petty bureaucrats, and that we have little recourse because the powers argue that the virus or the fires, or whatever are conjured up as a justification for blocking off the places to which we can retreat and recover our spirit.
Jack, please don’t give up. Thank you for your endeavours at the front.
A lockout for sure. Has anyone tried to drive back to Pendola Guard Station or Mono Hot Springs lately? The road has been closed for about a year. USFS says its a landslide has taken out the road. I looked on Google Earth and cannot find any wash-outs. Its more of their bullshit.
Hey William. Between a friend and myself, coming from different directions, we’ve been over the road in its entirely in the last few months and the there is nothing wrong with it.
Hey Guys – the FS has cleared the road out to Pendola and repaired the Thomas Fire damage; it’s currently in good shape. That being said, they are preparing to close East Camino Cielo at Cold Spring Saddle in order to repair the sinkhole that broke away part of the road between SY and Romero. That’s been on the FS todo’s for a while. Let’s hope that the road to Pendola is reopened once the ECC sinkhole is repaired…..
Thanks for your article Jack. I think the beach closures for Covid do not really follow the science unless they have a bunch of cases that were transmitted at the beach; but I have not heard that. It seems to me there is some better way than completely closing the forests.
Every forest order includes the provision “Any Federal, State, or local officer, or member of an organized rescue or fire fighting force in the Performance of an official duty.” This sounds good on the surface but I am told this makes it easy for a large group ( with keys to gates) to use the forest without the public getting any access. All they have to say is they are checking fuel load in the watershed to make it an official duty.
In truth we have become the danger to both the forests and ourselves. It’s a sad situation and maybe it needs to get worse before people understand the how to make it better.
Closing the forest was due given CalFire is stretched way beyond capacity.
Covid is upon us and getting back to normal or new normal will require active participation by everyone to slow the spread to give us time to mitigate the virus to a non issue for our population.
The forest and funding starved forest service needs our help and a little less I know my rights indignation.
Informing a forest service employee of ones legal right to drive on a open public road and not saying anything to anybody has nothing whatsoever to do with indignation.
When or if a person is questioned by a police officer and that person refers to their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, that has nothing to do with indignation.
Every time a person exercises their rights it’s not because they’re indignant.
The reason I spoke of rights to the lady was so as to cut to the chase: I had no interest in wasting time answering questions and she had no power to force me to answer questions. So be done with it already, stop bothering me and move on. That was the point. I told her right off that I didn’t answer questions yet she persisted.
With respect to the virus, the best place to be is outside in the full sun in a breeze. In other words, in conditions like those found on a beach.
If we are to believe that masks and social distancing are wise effective policies, both of which were already in effect, then there is no reasonable argument to close the beach any more than closing any other public space.
“CalFire is stretched way beyond capacity.”
Calls to mind California electrical infrastructure which is also stretched beyond capacity. And so officials just turn the power off on hundreds of thousands of people, homes and businesses, rather than ensuring proper services for one of the world’s leading economies.
The same thing can be said of the California water supply system, which has been thwarted by environmentalists in court and never fully realized. As Sen. Feinstein has noted, “Environmentalists ‘have never been helpful to me in producing good water policy,’ the California Democrat said in an interview. “You can’t have a water infrastructure for 16 million people and say, ‘Oh, it’s fine for 38 million people,’ when we’re losing the Sierra Nevada snowpack.’ ”
Given that the world, especially here in the US, is halfway down the rabbit hole of insanity and given that lots of the fires burning the West Coast are arson set it makes some sense to close fire prone areas like the Los Padres. That said closing should be when fire danger is high, in other words during Red Flag events. Now that the heat wave has moderated the forest should be opened.
Hey Hazard. Haha. Yes. Rabbit hole of insanity.
Speaking directly to your article on forest closure. CalFire is being stretched beyond their limits and hence the closure.
The other stuff you bring up Is a smoke screen (pardon the bun) and irrelevant to the current CalFire’s situation.
Yes, we know about CalFire; that was mentioned in the post, right at the beginning. I’m not sure why you’re repeating what I already said at the get-go.
That officials waited until the worst of the conditions upon which they justified the closure to pass—117 degree record heat wave—before issuing the closure is not “irrelevant.” That’s a fact worth pondering.
That coastal conditions dripping from marine layer and mild temperatures are of equal threat and danger to those of record high temperatures and aridity in the interior—the argument underlying the closure of the entire Los Padres—is not irrelevant but an opinion worth pondering.
The color added regarding my own life and the mention of current events for social context you may find irrelevant and may be correct in doing so.
But then again maybe you missed the point in thinking there is no relevance, as if these things aren’t all tied together, as if there is no impact on people’s lives or consequences for policy decisions. There’s relevance. You can’t tug on one string and not shake the whole web.
If however you are saying that there is no relevance to what’s happening in my life and society and the reason for the forest closure, well, that’s quite obvious and need not be said.
“The other stuff you bring up Is a smoke screen (pardon the bun) and irrelevant to the current CalFire’s situation.”
In your choice of words it occurs to me that you may have misinterpreted the point of the article. Smoke screen is an interesting choice of words on your part and suggests you read into my post things that weren’t intended.
My post was intended to be read in a literary light and not seen as something like an opinion-editorial piece. If you read it as an op-ed you missed the point of the post, which is my fault. But it’s not partisan commentary. It’s spacey rumination.
Nothing I mentioned in current events in society or my life, outside of the issue of wildfire, was intended as a diversion or subterfuge or to conceal anything about the wildfire situation in California. It was not a “smokescreen.” I noted up front in the post that the wildfire situation was extraordinary and I would not have written that if I was trying to screen something.
The juxtaposition of extraordinary current events in society with extraordinary wildfires and forest closures was not meant as some sort of cryptic argument against forest management policies.
I merely said in the post: this is what’s happening today in the time and space in which I live. Because these are not ordinary times and so worthy of mention.
And I found some humor in how these things have played out. Waiting until after it was 117 degrees to close the forest, for example. That’s amusing. And those are real quotes in response saying “good move” and “a bit late.” I could have made-up some derogatory remark or offered one from my own head. I didn’t. It didn’t occur to me, because that’s not the intention of the post or the motivation that spurred its creation.
And I offered no judgment on whether forest closures were good or bad. That’s not the intention here.
As an avid backpacker with a special place in my heart for the Los Padres I’ve followed your Blog for a while. It’s kinda impressive that you’re spending so much time on this.
Look I ran into ranger during the pandemic lock down and yes I could have taken your approach I went a totally deferent direction and ended up having a good conversation.
The comments regarding CalFire were over expanded, didn’t think all the commentary was needed. It’s pretty simple, they had too much on their plate and needed an access timeout.
It’s ok everybody is feeling worn and I just thought you were a little over the top in places and I was surprised . Let’s move on everyone needs to settle down and the common good will be reached.
“I just thought you were a little over the top in places and I was surprised .”
I appreciate you telling me that. That’s good to hear, believe it not not.
I like to bat things around a bit (and beat dead horses) and maybe I should have never replied to your original comment in the way I did.
Thanks for your thoughtful editorial.
Sunday I parked my car in the barricade and went for a walk on the road to La Cumbre Peak. I returned to my car and the Fire Guy was getting set to write me a ticket. “Did you not know about the restriction or did you not care?”, he asked me. I said I only wanted to walk on the road. (When there are no cars, walking the road feels like freedom.) He thanked me for my honesty. A minute later he came back to me with a warning.
He explained that when cars are parked inside barricades it encourage others to do the same. I thank him and said I realized that my car parked there was a dumb mover on my part.
I enjoyed my walk.
I agree with Jim that they are stretched too thin and don’t have the resources. As much as I hated the closure, I understand it and accept it.
Thank you again.
PS We are going to party so hard when all this is over!
Thanks for the comment, Paul. I’m glad you enjoyed some time out.
I have stayed out of the forest during the closure. I think everybody understands that fire fighting officials have more work than they can handle.
I just don’t care for answering questions when I haven’t done anything wrong. (I don’t fancy talking to anybody when I’m out in the forest, actually.)
I’ll use your comment as a spring board to beat the dead horse here again for fun. The following isn’t necessarily directed at you.
I had told the ranger right at the start that I knew about the closure. So as far as I was concerned, that should have been the end of it. Further questioning I found offensive, particularly about my intentions. I’m not out to converse and carry on with people. And I told her that right up front at the start. Yet she persisted. Maybe that’s a side of Jack Elliott some people were unaware about, although I have written about it:
Grouch of the Woods
And here, too, in The Privateer post:
Anyhow. Thanks for stopping by, Paul.
He said the road to Pendola is closed. Today, November 3, 2020, Jeff at SB Ranger District said “storm damage” closed the road. In the comments above, others have said it is open. So I don’t know who to believe and I think I need to check it out for myself.
805 448 4710 is the phone number of the SB ranger district.
There might be some confusion between what his meant by wide open. The dirt road to Pendola is in good drivable condition, but the gate remains closed.