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Government considers closing San Juan forest
June 11, 2002
By Jim Greenhill
Herald Staff Writer
The Missionary Ridge Fire has prompted talk about closing the San Juan
National Forest and forest officials faced with a massive fire apparently
caused by carelessness wont rule out the option.
"Naturally, were having discussions about future fire restrictions," said
Pauline Ellis, district ranger for the Columbine Ranger District. "As far
as I know, we have never closed the forest up here. We are monitoring this
on a day-by-day basis. The number of human-caused fires may influence how
we handle it."
John Kelley, a cattle rancher whose property north of Lemon Reservoir was
threatened by the advancing fire, said Missionary Ridge should have been
closed long ago.
"They should have done that about a month ago," he said. "Then this
wouldnt have happened. They should only let people past the cattle guard
if theyve got cattle or business up there."
The Missionary Ridge Fire appears to have started Sunday in a ditch next to
Missionary Ridge Road. Firefighters have said it might have been started by
a cigarette butt or ash dropped out a car window.
"What were seeing here is what Im more used to in Flagstaff," Ellis said.
"Things are explosive here. Things that we normally get away with running
a saw in your garage or throwing a cigarette in a ditch we can no longer
get away with."
If the San Juan National Forest was closed, it would not be the first in
The Forest Service closed much of the Pike-San Isabel National Forest
indefinitely Monday for the first time in at least a quarter century after
a wildfire consumed 70,000 acres. The area covers five counties southwest
of Denver and is a popular destination for campers, hikers and other
Landowners, residents needing access through forest and Bureau of Land
Management land, and firefighters were exempt.
Forests in other states including New Mexico and Arizona have closed in
"This is a very serious step to take, and they took it very carefully,"
said Dave Steinke, Forest Service spokesman. "We tend to take the public
lands for granted, and now that theyve been taken away, were getting a
dose of reality, and maybe well take them less for granted."
Gov. Bill Owens supported the Forest Services decision.
"Theyre the experts," he said. "We have to rely on their judgment. Who in
Colorado after seeing whats happened could possibly second-guess them?"