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Permit system can be crucial when wildfires strike, prompt evacuations, area sweeps, trail closures

(Update: Adding video)

'It's a huge help for us, when we do have an emergency situation occur'

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- At the first sign of a wildfire, Forest Service staff get boots on the ground to see what areas need to be closed. Casey Andrews, dispersed recreation team lead for the Deschutes National Forest, says they block off trails, create detours and sweep the affected areas for hikers.

"We send people out from the trailheads, sometimes they're hiking up to 15 miles a day and trying to identify folks and get them back to the trailhead," Andrews told NewsChannel 21.

Forest Service crews worked through dense smoke and heat to bring 12 hikers to safety when the Pete's Lake Fire broke out on August 25th, five miles west of Elk Lake. Firefighters and aerial support searched through more than 15 miles of forest.

Andrews says fire closures highlight the importance of the permit system.

"It is a huge help for us when we do have an emergency situation occur. It allows us to identify where people are, or at least where they were intended to be," Andrews said.

Rangers also look at how many cars are at trailhead parking lots, to track people down -- but not all hikers started their journey in Central Oregon.

'Thru hikers', most often hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, are also impacted by fire closures. Scott Wilkinson, content development director for the Pacific Crest Trail Association, says detours are now the norm for hikers.

"Detours have been happening much more often in the last few years, because as climate change continues, all of these events are happening more frequently and with greater intensity," Wilkinson said.

He also highlights how knowledge is the most important part of preparing for the Pacific Crest Trail.

"We urge hikers to be prepared to spend a few more days on the trail if necessary, carry enough food, supplies, things like that," Wilkinson said. "But we also highlight the need to be flexible and resilient, because these days that's the only way that you're going to be able to actually complete the trail."

The Pacific Crest Trail Association website has thousands of up-to-date resources for hikers. Word also spreads fast through social media and PCT community groups, keeping those on the trail informed.

"It's kind of funny -- we'd like to think that maybe there's no cell service, but in fact, I would say probably more than half, possibly as much as two-thirds of the PCT actually does have cell service now," Wilkinson said.

Andrews says once the Forest Service closes a trail due to fire, it won't reopen until there's a "season-ending weather event" -- like lots of rain or snow.

"Our primary goal is to reroute them around and not have major impact on their visit, but of course, our primary focus is their safety," Andrews said.

Due to the Petes Lake Fire, the Forest Service closed about 15 miles of the PCT and portions of six other trails in the closure area on the Deschutes National Forest. As always, the Forest Service urges everyone to recreate responsibly, stay informed, and respect closures.

Article Topic Follows: Outdoors

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Carly Keenan

Carly Keenan is a multimedia journalist and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Carly here.


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