Last Monday’s (April 6) town meeting at the Three Rivers Memorial Building featured updates on the season’s first fire, the new BLM Resource Management Plan, and some tips to cope with the seasonal spike in trespassing to gain river access.
Fire in Sequoia
Mike Theune, fire and education specialist for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, said that the season’s first fire was ignited Saturday, April 4, east of Potwisha Campground in Sequoia National Park where the Generals Highway begins its steep ascent toward Hospital Rock.
Theune said a few firefighters remained on standby Monday just in case there was a flare-up in the 20 acres of hilly terrain where the fire started. Investigators believe the fire began near the river, which is about 150 yards below the highway grade.
“It was human-caused, but we don’t exactly know how it started,” Theune said.
After a park employee reported seeing the fire around 1:40 p.m., it was nearly an hour later when Cal Fire units were able to reach the scene to back up a National Park Service engine, the first responder. A Tulare County Fire Department engine stationed in Three Rivers, and the nearest engine that could have responded, was not called to the Potwisha incident.
The initial efforts to fight the fire were hampered by the fact that the early April blaze occurred at a time before either the National Park Service or Cal Fire had reinforced their staffing for the impending fire season. That lack of early-season staffing could have had dire consequences had conditions been such that the fire jumped the highway and started burning up-slope toward the Giant Forest.
As it turned out, aerial water drops and firefighters on the scene were able to contain the blaze in a couple of hours. The fire did jump the highway, but only a 20-by-20-foot patch of vegetation burned before it was extinguished.
The fact that the Generals Highway acted as a fire break necessitated the closure of the roadway for several hours and also prompted park rangers to evacuate Potwisha and Buckeye Flat campgrounds, as well as the Hospital Rock area. Visitors were allowed to return to the closed areas within a few hours after the blaze was reported.
Chief Joe Garcia, Tulare County Fire Department, said there is a mutual-aid agreement between the area’s three agencies (NPS, Cal Fire, TCFD) but that more specific policy is needed to determine what actions are appropriate when there are incidents like the recent Potwisha one. Battalion Chief Andy Turner of Cal Fire said the Three Rivers station will be staffed full-time starting Monday, April 13.
The consensus policy among the various fire agencies is to move away from just adding personnel when fire season is officially declared, which traditionally is in May. With the dry conditions of the past few years — especially in 2015 when the foothills grasses began turning from green to brown as early as March — staff will be on duty year-round whenever and wherever it’s feasible.
Steve Larson, field manager with the Bakersfield office of the Bureau of Land Management, spoke on behalf of the agency about the region’s new Resource Management Plan that has been in the works since 2008. He reported that the plan has recently been approved and will guide future policy for the next couple of decades.
The plan provides direction for the management of approximately 400,000 acres of public lands and 1.2 million acres of mineral estate in Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Kings, Tulare, Madera, eastern Fresno and western Kern counties. It provides a framework for managing public lands within the Bakersfield Field Office jurisdiction for recreation, travel management, oil and gas development, threatened and endangered species, grazing as well as other resources.
“There’s not much in the way of changes for the BLM lands around Three Rivers,” Larson said. “The North Fork sites will remain closed.”
The Case Mountain site and the North Fork sites are now collectively referred to as the “Kaweah sites” and have been designated areas of critical environmental concern (ACEC), Larson said.
Presently, the BLM is trying address the issue of shooting in and around the Skyline/Salt Creek BLM area. Some of those shots were reportedly aimed near homes, Larson said. He said in the next several months there will be improved access and signage that will outline the regulations that are enforced in the Case Mountain area, which is accessed via Skyline and Salt Creek drives.
It was also reported that the BLM completed the clearing of brush and road grading along the Salt Creek fire road all the way to Cinnamon Gap. The agency is also planning to burn some brush piles in the Case Mountain area.
Larson said the Oak Grove Road to Case Mountain will be subject to intermittent closure while two old bridges are replaced. BLM engineers are also inspecting culverts on the Salt Creek Road that were buried by the recent roadwork.
Kaweah River trespassing
Mark Frick, Three Rivers resident deputy sheriff, said with the warmer weather the trespassing season is in full swing. He reported that users are allowed in the river area that is below the traditional high water mark.
In order for a citation to be enforced in court, Deputy Frick said, the property should be posted clearly with at least three “No Trespassing” or “Permission to enter by owner” signs. That alleviates the excuse that the trespasser did not know the property was posted.
“A citation that results in a court appearance and a $50 fine can go a long way to alleviate the problem,” Deputy Frick said.
Village Foundation meetings
Lee Goldstein, moderator of the monthly meetings, was thanked by the audience when he announced he was stepping aside after five years of being at the helm of the regular Town Hall meetings, sponsored by the Three Rivers Village Foundation. Tom Sparks, who preceded Lee, will return as moderator for future meetings.
The next Town Hall meeting is scheduled for Monday, May 4. To suggest an agenda item or for more information about getting involved with the Village Foundation, call Tom Sparks at 561-0406.