With 9,000 firefighters battling 21 fires in California, an unwelcome heatwave is grappling the state in mid-October and no rain is in sight.
Temperatures are predicted to dip back to seasonal norms next week, but according to officials with the Forest Service, rain is the only thing that can end this year’s catastrophic wildfires that have burned well past the traditional fire season.
Deb Schweizer, Public Affairs Specialist with the Inyo National Forest, told The Daily Independent Friday that there is not much of a “fire season” anymore but a “fire year.”
Temperatures are more than 15 degrees above normal for this time of year, she said, coupled with record dryness and no rain in the immediate future make the wilderness ready to burn.
Despite the higher temperatures firefighters are taking advantage of the longer, cooler nights of fall, Schweizer said, when the “active fire burning window” is decreased.
The Creek Fire, actively burning just 5 miles from Mammoth Lakes, is not like other fires in a season unlike any other.
“The (Creek) fire behavior is surprising,” she said, as it remains active at night and made its way through the scars of the 2018 Lions Fire to creep toward the ski resort and community.
She made it clear that the Creek Fire is a “full suppression fire,” and highly destructive. Starting in early September, it has destroyed 856 structures, commanding 987 firefighters and burning 344,042 acres, according to CalFire as of Friday, Oct. 16. The Forest Service is not letting the fire burn naturally as a fuel reduction strategy. It is currently 60% contained.
The scar of the Lion Fire slowed progress of the Creek Fire toward Mammoth Lakes for about three weeks, Schweizer said. The fire would have to burn up rock and the sparse vegetation at high altitude to reach the community. An aerial ignition performed earlier this week was successful at reducing fuels at higher altitudes, she added.
Many closures throughout the Inyo National Forest remain in effect including the Forest within Madera County, which includes popular common destinations such as Reds Meadow Valley and the Devils Postpile National Monument.
The areas of Navy Beach and the South Tufa Area at Mono Lake remain closed as do the Inyo portions of the South Sierra, Golden Trout, John Muir, Ansel Adams, Owens River Headwaters, and Hoover Wilderness Areas.
Wildernesses in the Inyo Mountains and the White Mountains, front country dispersed areas throughout the forest, developed sites, resorts, and recreation resident cabins are open.
Schweizer said she knows people want to get into the backcountry and has heard from the community and hikers but despite the longer, cooler nights the unseasonably warm temperatures are forcing the agency to proceed cautiously. She added that the Forest Service may re-evaluate closures next week but it all depends on how the fire acts.