Light of the World

Ray Miller Burn

Ray Miller Burn

The hills are alive…

Shoemaker fire is burning up near East Fork Road above Glendora, not so terribly far from where three dumbass stoners set the woods on fire earlier this year. A day after the Shoemaker fire started, it is only 10% contained. It’s burning south of Baden Powell, and West of Baldy, in one of the areas that wasn’t scorched by the 2009 Station Fire., the effects of which we are still dealing with in Angeles National Forest. Big chunks of the forest – Strawberry Peak, for example, and the Gabrielino Trail past Oakwylde, remain closed.

I remember a hot day in September, 2009, me and it seemed like half of Los Angeles in the water at Venice Beach, a sea of nearly naked humanity, looked back over the city and seeing the plume of smoke like a mushroom cloud, as if an atomic bomb had just gone off in the mountains. Even there, you could smell the ash.

The Station Fire & the Colby Fire were both set by arsonists. The Colby Fire was 3 stoners smoking pot around a campfire on a windy night. I don’t think they ever caught the guy who started the station fire, but they did find the spot where it began. Unlike the stoners, who were just trying to keep warm, the Station Fire appeared to have been deliberately started. Accelerant was found at the origin.

Last year, the Powerhouse Fire burned 30,000 acres near Lake Hughes. The Leona Divide course was nothing but ankle deep ash, the PCT nowhere to be found, and the race rerouted for 2014. That fire was started by sparking electrical wires. LADWP has no idea how it happened, but they are pretty sure it’s not their fault.

The Shoemaker fire started on the side of the road. Nothing much natural happens on the road or alongside it. Cigarette butt out the window, maybe?

Powerhouse Fire, from Mt. Baden Powell

Smoke from Powerhouse Fire, seen from Mt. Baden Powell

I was running Baden Powell. I stopped at Little Jimmy to refill my water bottles and was joined by a couple of hikers. They were married, in their 50s, and new to the area, having just moved to Wrightwood a month or so earlier. They were avid hikers, they said, and had been on a pretty ambitious route that day. They asked me about trails in the area.

And then they each lit up a cigarette and started smoking.

I was dumbfounded, on multiple counts.

First of all, it was stunning to see that this couple, who were obviously strong hikers and had already done a route with significant climbing that day were also smokers. It didn’t make sense. It also didn’t make sense that people who professed and thus far had evidenced a love of the mountains and of nature should risk smoking in what was a tinderbox. You could see the giant cloud of smoke from the Powerhouse fire. So many thoughts went crashing through my head, colliding and leaving me speechless. I stared at them for a few minutes and then took off running.

The Springs Fire was started by “accidental ignition from a passing car or truck” on the 101 near Camarillo. It burned 24,000 acres in the Santa Monica Mountains in a day and half, including the area near the Ray Miller Trail. This is what caused the Ray Miller 50/50 to be replaced by the Sean O’Brian 50/50, run further down in Malibu, replacing beautiful singletrack with much less pleasant fireroad.

The Ray Miller area near Pt. Mugu is a haunting, desolate lunar-looking charred landscape. It’s sort of stunning, but brutal looking.

Further north last year, in the Sierras, a hunter’s illegal fire set started the Rim Fire, which burned 257,000 acres and is the largest fire on record in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Forest Service budget cuts are partly responsible for rapid spread, because response was slow. It burned into back country areas of Yosemite National Park.

Gila, NM, by Kari Greer, USFS. Creative Commons.

Gila, NM, by Kari Greer, USFS. Creative Commons.

Last year in Arizona, lightning ignited the Yarnell Fire, which eventually burned 8,400 acres and cost 19 hot shots (firefighters their lives. Outside Magazine published a series of articles on this tragedy, including this excellent one.

Update: Shoemaker Fire expanded to 190 acres, which is still quite small, and is 95% contained after just 3 days. Luckily, it ran into the charred remains of the Colby Fire. There was nothing left to burn. Once again, man destroys the environment. Great thanks as always to the firefighters who put themselves out there battling these.

Southern California Fires, Rennett Stowe, Creative Commons

Southern California Fires, Rennett Stowe, Creative Commons

Southern California Fires (3869161421)” by Rennett Stowe. Licensed under Creative Commons. [1]
Whitewater-Baldy Complex, Gila National Forest, New Mexico, May, 2012, Photo by Kari Greer, USFS Gila National Forest. [2]

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