LOS ANGELES – Even as firefighters contained major wildfires (search) in Southern California (search), authorities contemplated drastic steps to prevent more in what could be another disastrous fire season.
Angeles National Forest (search) supervisor Jody Noiron said Friday that the onslaught of blazes was unprecedented this early in the fire season.
In the past week, wildfires destroyed more than 48,000 acres of dry brush and trees. A handful of homes and other structures were lost and thousands of residents were evacuated.
If the hot, dry weather conditions continue, forest officials "may be faced with some very tough decisions" to restrict use of national forests or close them, Noiron said.
Stanton Florea, a spokesman for the national forest, said the closures are only one of many measures being eyed by fire officials.
"It's being discussed. There are many other levels of fire restrictions that we'd go to prior to that," he said.
Those measures could include restricting campfires and stoves and closing at-risk areas, he said.
With Southern California in the fifth year of a drought and temperatures in the fire areas consistently reaching the high 90s, firefighters said it seemed more like October — the height of fire season — than mid-July.
California saw its worst fire season ever last year, when a series of gigantic blazes burned across more than 750,000 acres, destroying 3,650 homes and killing 24 people.
Those firestorms all came in October — a time when brush and timber, deprived of rain throughout the region's dry summers, are most susceptible to fires driven by hot Santa Ana winds.
Citing extreme fire danger, authorities last year shut down the Cleveland and Angeles national forests and part of the San Bernardino National Forest for a time.
In Alaska, an evacuation order for a rural subdivision north of Fairbanks was lifted Friday. The order was issued Monday and affected about 150 people.
Also, the U.S. Small Business Administration declared the Interior a disaster area due to ongoing wildfires. The declaration means loans will be available to small businesses in affected areas.