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‘Exceptional Drought’ Closing Colorado Parks

This June 9 satellite image provide by DigitalGlobe shows the 416 Fire, right, and the Burro Fire, left, northwest of Durango, Colo.

Extreme fire danger prompted officials to shut down a sprawling forest that includes some of Colorado’s most stunning mountains in a region that attracts tourists from around the world, a rare tactic also being used in neighboring states as the U.S. Southwest struggles with severe drought, according to the Associated Press.

National forests and parks in Arizona and New Mexico have already been shut down as precautions.

San Juan National Forest officials in southwestern Colorado planned to close hundreds of miles of trails and thousands of miles of back roads to hikers, bikers, horseback riders and campers as soon as Tuesday to prevent the possibility of an abandoned campfire or any other spark from starting a wildfire. It’s the first full closure of a national forest in Colorado since 2002, which was another very dry year.

The closure will remain until sufficient precipitation eases the fire danger.

The move comes as the residents of more than 2,000 homes have been forced to evacuate because of a fire that started June 1 in the forest and spread to about 35 square miles (91 square kilometers) as of Monday. Authorities are still investigating how the fire started.

No homes have been lost although the fire came close to buildings Sunday night, authorities said. Fire managers credited advance fire mitigation work by homeowners for helping firefighters save the structures.

Much of the U.S. West is experiencing some level of drought and the Four Corners region – where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado meet – is at the center of a large patch of exceptional drought.

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