Castle Fire: A report on the landscape under threat (and photos too)

A report on the landscape
Teresa Benson, supervisor, Sequoia National Forest, during a 2015 tour of the Rough Fire and the upgraded Hume Lake Dam (in background).

It’s a long road ahead for us.
(Teresa Benson, SNF supervisor, during an online public meeting on Sunday, September 20, for the Castle Fire) A report on the landscape

 



SQF Complex (consists of Castle Fire and the smaller Shotgun Fire)

Location: 12 air miles east of the town center of Three Rivers; 10 air miles west of Mineral King (Golden Trout Wilderness in Sequoia and Inyo national forests; Tulare County); consists of the Castle Fire and Shotgun Fire.

Acreage: 144,826 (as of Wednesday, Sept. 23, 7 p.m.)

Containment of Castle Fire: 35% (mostly on the easternmost side of the Castle Fire; however, containment has been achieved this week on the west side for the first time – (1) In the vicinity of SCICON; and (2) Along the Grouse Valley Fire Control Road, 6 miles up South Fork Drive in Three Rivers).

Expected Full Containment: End of October 2020 or when the rains come

Structures Threatened: 3,143

Structures Destroyed: 148 (all in the cabin communities off Highway 190 east of Springville)

Personnel (and +/- difference since last report): 1,508 total (+86) | 25 hand crews (same), 35 water tenders (-1), 9 helicopters (same), 103 engines (+14), 35 dozers (+1).

A report on the landscape
The Case Mountain Fire Control Road where it leaves Cinnamon Gap (between the Kaweah’s Middle Fork and South Fork canyons) and ascends to Case Mountain (elevation 6,818 feet) and its sequoia grove and communications facilities. This road eventually ends near Oak Grove Bridge area on Mineral King Road (a distance of 15 miles from Salt Creek Road to Mineral King Road).

Where to Watch: Continue to stay focused on the NORTHWEST portion of the Castle Fire, which is what poses a threat to Three Rivers and its surrounding mountains. This is in the area of Dennison Ridge, which is currently the most active part of the Castle Fire. A report on the landscape

To the WEST is the Grouse Valley Fire Control Road and its recently burned-out acreage that is intended to stop any advancement to the residences and ranches in the South Fork canyon (currently, the fire is 5.5 miles from the intersection of South Fork Drive and Grouse Valley Road).

A report on the landscape
The sign at Cinnamon Gap identifying the Case Mountain Fire Control Road, which extends from Salt Creek Road in Three Rivers to the 9-mile marker on South Fork Drive, a distance of about 12 miles, with a spur road to Case Mountain.

If the fire continues NORTH and crosses the South Fork river, then the fight is on to keep it away from Cinnamon Gap (7.75 miles), from continuing to Case Mountain (and its associated giant sequoia groves), and out of the Salt Creek canyon. The Homers Nose/Cahoon Mountain area could also provide a path for the fire’s northward progression.

If the fire makes a run to the NORTHEAST, firefighters will be on alert in the Mineral King area to protect the structures, many of which are historic. It is unlikely the fire will advance to the cabin communities; it would have to cross the Hockett plateau, make its way through the footprints of the Eden (2018) and Horse (2009) fires in the Hockett Meadow area, and traverse several years of prescribed burn blocks in Mineral King’s East Fork canyon (as recent as 2016). 

Mandatory Evacuations (no change): 

KAWEAH RIVER CANYON— South Fork Drive beginning at the 43000 block (2 miles from Highway 198) and higher; Mineral King area cabin communities (Atwell Mill, Cabin Cove, Silver City, West Mineral King, East Mineral King).

TULE RIVER CANYON— Camp Nelson, Sequoia Crest, Alpine Village, Redwood Drive, Ponderosa, Cedar Slope, Pyles Boys Camp, Coy Flat, Mountain Aire, Pier Point.

Evacuation Warnings (no change): 

THREE RIVERS— All of Three Rivers except for the mandatory portion above.

TULE RIVER CANYON—  Springville area.

Three Rivers Area Closures: South Fork Drive at Conley Creek Bridge (2 miles from Highway 198). All of Sequoia National Park, including Generals Highway from Sequoia entrance station to the Woodward Gate (near Montecito-Sequoia Lodge). Mineral King Road at Oak Grove Bridge. Several businesses have closed temporarily due to smoky conditions and the park closure.

Weather: The beginning of next week (Sunday-Friday, Sept. 27-October 2) will experience a return to a run of hot weather with temperatures at or above 100 degrees F. for several days. This will lower fuel moisture levels and create more volatile fire conditions. A report on the landscape

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW↓

The Castle Fire on Dennison Ridge at night. This view is to the southeast from a Cinnamon Canyon residence (Cinnamon Canyon Road intersects with South Fork Drive 5 miles from Highway 198). From homeowner Debi Seals: “We cannot see the fire except for at night. The firefighters are using our place for observation.”

Additional Fire News

—The Castle Fire, as it burns through Devils Canyon and perhaps Bennett Creek area and Coffeepot Canyon, could wipe out some illicit weed farms that have set up annual operations in these remote areas. Even if the fire doesn’t destroy the entire 2020 harvests, it will destroy infrastructure and some overstory that provides cover for these ecologically destructive crops.


—The northwest portion of the Castle Fire should soon be stopped from westward progress down South Fork canyon by the burn that was ignited by CALFIRE last weekend (Sept. 19-20) along the Grouse Valley Fire Control Road. That section is factored into the 35% containment.


—The northwest portion of the Castle Fire is currently burning in two sequoia groves in Sequoia National Park: Dillonwood Grove and Garfield Grove. It has possibly entered, or will enter, some other more remote groves: Devils Canyon, Forgotten, and Clough Cave groves. A high-intensity wildfire in these groves that are untreated by prescribed burns could be lethal to these ancient trees. If a grove has been treated with prescribed burns to reduce fuel buildup and restore fire resilience, fire could be healthy for the trees. But these groves are not fire-adapted; the Castle Fire will likely burn too hot and giant sequoias will be the casualty. See an additional report on giant sequoias below.


—Air quality in the Kaweah canyon remains in the HAZARDOUS range. Take health precautions as necessary. The smoke is not forecast to dissipate for at least another week.


—Other FIRE NEWS of note includes – A report on the landscape

(1) The northeast portion of the Castle Fire in Kern Canyon is less than 1 mile from the historic Kern Canyon Ranger Station at the south boundary of Sequoia National Park. Just in the nick of time, the fire veered west and is burning up the Coyote Peaks ridge. The ranger station is heat-wrapped for protection.

A trail sign showing the distance to the Avalanche Pass area, where the Moraine Fire is burning, and back to Road’s End near the Cedar Grove area of Kings Canyon.

(2) The Rattlesnake Fire, a lightning-caused fire in the lower canyon east of Franklin Pass has descended into the Kern Canyon trench, is now 2,475 acres, traveling north, and is less than 1 mile from Kern Hot Spring as it burns along the southernmost portion of the High Sierra Trail. This fire is being managed as a resource burn and monitored by National Park Service personnel who are also keeping an on the Kern Canyon Ranger Station. Currently, the only damage this fire has caused to property is a RAWS (Remote Automatic Weather Station) in Rattlesnake Canyon.

(3) The Shotgun Fire (Mineral King area) and Moraine Fire (Kings Canyon National Park are also being monitored by Sequoia-Kings Canyon fire personnel. The Shotgun Fire is 834 acres and showing nominal growth. The Moraine Fire is 668 acres with 70% containment. Both are resource burns that will consume forest debris, create healthy forest ecosystems, and are not threatening lives or property.
Perri Spreiser supplied the information on the Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks resource-managed fires. Perri is serving a local detail as parks fire information officer on loan from Natchez Trace Parkway (Tennessee. Mississippi).


—Sequoia National Forest, Inyo National Forest, and seven other California national forests will remain closed to the public until at least October 2, 2020. No information yet on when Sequoia National Park (or Yosemite) will reopen. 


—GIANT SEQUOIA REPORT FROM THE SOUTH SIDE – 

(1) The George H.W. Bush Tree in the Freeman Creek Grove, which had its buttress protected by an aluminized, heat-resistant wrap, has survived the Castle Fire. The tree was named for the then-president in 1992 when he gave a presidential proclamation from the grove ensuring all giant sequoia groves on National Forest lands would be forever preserved.

(2) It has also been reported that the Amos Alonzo Stagg Tree, number five on the list of largest giant sequoias, has survived the blaze. The Stagg Tree is in the Alder Creek Grove, a private grove purchased by the Save The Redwoods League in December 2019 for $15.65 million. The grove is located near Alpine Village and Sequoia Crest, two cabin communities decimated by the Castle Fire. A report on the landscape


Traversing the Landscape: The Castle Fire’s terrain

If the Castle Fire could read, it would know how far it would have to burn (or has burned).

 

In the midst of Garfield Grove looking north toward the South Fork canyon.

 

Looking north from Garfield Grove across the South Fork canyon to the monolith known as Homers Nose (center).

 

An ancient monarch in Garfield Grove. A report on the landscape

 

 

An overcrowded canopy in Garfield Grove.

 

The historic Hockett Meadow Ranger Station on the north end of Hockett Meadow. This area is situated between the Castle Fire and the Mineral King cabin communities.

 

A report on the landscape
Silver City Mountain Resort closed just after Labor Day due to hazardous air quality conditions caused by smoke. Located on the Mineral King Road, the resort includes lodging, store, and restaurant.

 

A report on the landscape
A historic cabin near road’s end in East Mineral King.

 

A report on the landscape
The Mineral King Ranger Station has been closed throughout Summer 2020 due to COVID-19. The closure continues…

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FIRE SEASON 2020: The unrelenting, destructive Castle Fire

12 thoughts on “Castle Fire: A report on the landscape under threat (and photos too)

  • September 24, 2020 at 7:14 am
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    Great coverage !
    Thank you for keeping everyone so well informed.
    The photos really help everyone put these connected areas in perspective.
    Also, I’m jealous of your organization. Though I have lots of sign, groves and hikes….I also have 2, 500 other photos splattered across my phone gallery.
    A good Covid / Smoke project
    I suppose .

    Reply
  • September 24, 2020 at 8:25 am
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    i am not trying to be ignorant or selfish and i understand closing some nat. forests due to the fires being so close and all but, what about the piute mountains in the south seq. nat. forest? the piutes are not as close to the area’s in question and deer season starts sat.the 26th. if you were to allow the hunt but no camping, suv’s or cooking and such, it should not be out of the question. it could still save some people from loosing there hard earned money they paid for license and tags and stop a lot of hunters from being angry. thank you

    Reply
  • September 24, 2020 at 8:28 am
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    You continue to do amazing reporting. I know it is appreciated. Three Rivers was my home for many years and I still own my parents’ home there. Here in CT, your reporting helps me educate people about our Giant Sequoias and healthy forest management. Thank you!!!

    Reply
  • September 24, 2020 at 8:41 am
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    Great reporting Sarah & John!

    The Garfield Grove trail was a mess in need of much work, just ridiculously over-run with poison oak for the first 3-4 miles and the section past Snowslide Canyon was bordering on impassible, but that was then and this is now.

    A 1905 2 1/2 acre lightning caused fire burned up everything except for larger Sequoias in a fairly contained space, and there really aren’t many smaller brobdingnagians up there, so i’m anxious to see what the new look will have in store.

    The 3 biggies (King Arthur-Floyd Otter-Eric De Groot) should have done just fine, as they ‘re off by themselves in the forest for the trees.

    Reply
  • September 24, 2020 at 9:38 am
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    Thank you for your continued coverage! It would be even better if you could include information about the outlook/plan for the residences on South Fork that are upriver of the Grouse back burn/Road 319 and the Cahoon fire road. It’s great that these efforts will likely keep the fire from coming further down towards town, and I know CalFire does have a plan for South Fork Drive above the 46000 addresses, but, as someone who lives up there, I’d greatly appreciate it being included in your reporting. Thank you!

    Reply
    • September 24, 2020 at 11:28 am
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      I hear you Logan! As someone down on the 43000 block I feel your pain even more. I’m spitting distance from the Conley bridge cutoff.

      Reply
  • September 24, 2020 at 1:42 pm
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    Thanks for your coverage and any information about the south fork drive area of and aroundThree Rivers will be appreciated

    Reply
  • September 25, 2020 at 9:04 am
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    This is day 12 of evacuation for us (4500 block) of S Fork. We can’t get even an estimate of when we might go back. If you can get some info, it would be greatly appreciated.

    Reply
  • September 25, 2020 at 9:16 am
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    Any new News about the South Fork?It’s Friday and haven’t seen any updates…

    Reply
  • September 26, 2020 at 3:24 pm
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    Thank you for great reporting!

    Reply

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