Tuesday, May 13, 2014

fire danger: big santa anita canyon

Cool under the canopy: Sturtevant Falls May 12 2014

With red flag warnings for heightened fire danger across SoCal in place through Wednesday evening, City of Sierra Madre officials have closed access to several trails including those in Big Santa Anita Canyon.

The city tweeted the exact same announcement at 8:18 a.m. Monday May 12, but by that time several people were already on trails in Big Santa Anita, including me.

I walked past Spruce Grove and Sturtevant Camp to get up to Mt. Wilson, and found a Los Angeles County Flood Control marker near the summit, where you might expect to see a U.S. Geological Survey benchmark.

Marker overlooking Big Santa Anita Canyon

Whatever the marker signifies, it's a fact L.A. County Flood Control and the Forest Service installed numerous check dams in Big Santa Anita in the early 1960s to slow erosion in the cabin-strewn lower canyon.

The view looking east from Mt. Wilson includes Mt. San Antonio, aka Baldy, on the Los Angeles-San Bernardino county line.

San Gabriel Mountains in L.A. County: May 12 2014

On top of Mt. Wilson are numerous observatories, including the 100-inch Hooker Telescope dome that became operational in 1917.

Historic telescope dome on Mt. Wilson: May 12 2014

There's also the antenna farm from which TV stations transmit across the L.A. designated media market.

Antennas on Mt. Wilson: May 12 2014

The Station Fire, largest in Los Angeles County history, threatened Mt. Wilson in late August and early September 2009. Inside an observatory museum on the summit is a photograph reminding visitors of the ever-present fire danger.

Displayed in Astronomical Museum on Mt. Wilson

I walked past Mt. Harvard and down Winter Creek to Chantry Flat. Driving out I found the road gate in Sierra Madre closed and apparently locked. With the help of a local mountain biker I got it open and headed home.

As of Tuesday afternoon, red flag warnings remained in effect for Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, San Diego and Ventura counties through 8 p.m. May 14, according to the National Weather Service.

Update 6:20 p.m. The Bernardo Fire burning in north San Diego County prompted officials to order evacuations for residents of more than 20,000 homes and residences in the 4S Ranch, Fairbanks Ranch and eastern Rancho Santa Fe areas, according to sheriff's and county officials.

An evacuation point was set up at Torrey Pines High School, 3710 Del Mar Heights Road.

The fire was reported about 11 a.m. Tuesday off Nighthawk Lane southwest of Rancho Bernardo, according to Cal Fire. It was estimated at 800 acres with 5 percent containment.


Monday, May 5, 2014

usfs: illegal campfire ignited $4M etiwanda blaze

Perimeter map of Etiwanda Fire burned area: Esri, USGS

Investigators believe an illegal campfire sparked the 2,190-acre Etiwanda Fire that roared out of Day Canyon last Wednesday on howling Santa Ana winds and prompted mandatory evacuation orders for residents of more than 1,600 homes in Rancho Cucamonga, a Forest Service spokesman announced Monday.

No arrests had been made and authorities were seeking help from the public.

The fire was first reported about 8 a.m. April 30 in the North Etiwanda Preserve area as erratic winds out of the northeast stoked the blaze and grounded firefighting aircraft. No homes sustained severe damage but a half-dozen schools were closed that day, more than 900 firefighters were called out, and three of them sustained minor injuries.

Here's the statement distributed May 5 by John Miller of the San Bernardino National Forest: 

Investigators have determined that the 2,190 acre Etiwanda Fire was started by an escaped illegal campfire.

Once conditions in Day Canyon were deemed safe, investigators hiked into the remote upper portion of the canyon, and located evidence of an illegal campfire. Investigators believe the illegal campfire may have been smoldering for a few days until the strong winds blew embers into nearby brush. Wood and charcoal fires are only permitted in designated campgrounds and picnic areas and never in the general forest area. 

Forest and fire officials are asking for the public’s assistance. If you observed any hikers, or persons in the area, during the week leading up to the fire, please call the WeTip Hotline at 800-472-7766 or submit the tip on-line at http://wetip.com/submit-anonymous-tip-2/

 As of 5 p.m. Monday the Etiwanda Fire was considered 96 percent contained, according to the Fire Service. The estimated cost of fighting the fire and ensuring it's completely out was unclear. For more info see http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/3848/.

Update 8 p.m.  The estimated cost of fighting the Etiwanda Fire as of Monday evening was $4 million, Carol Underhill of the forest's Front Country Ranger District said in an email.