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Smoke from West Side fire raises residents’ ire

August 1, 2011

Taken at 5:45 p.m. Wednesday, just north of Lone Pine, this photo shows how smoke from the Lion Fire in the Golden Trout Wilderness has impacted the Eastern Sierra, blotting out Lone Pine’s “main attraction,” Mt. Whitney. Photo by Alden Nash

Fire officials say the Lion Fire, which has been the source of smoky and hazy skies in Inyo County for the past several weeks, has grown to 16,350 acres.
The National Park Service, in response to a number of complaints from Eastern Sierra residents about smoke impacts from the fire, has scheduled a public meeting in Southern Inyo next week.
At times, smoke from the fire has completely obscured the view of the Sierra from the communities of Lone Pine and Independence.
The meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 1 at the Boulder Creek Resort on U.S. 395 south of Lone Pine.
There, district rangers, incident commanders and representatives from Great Basin Air Pollution Control District will discuss and answer questions about the fire management strategy and concerns about smoke.
Great Basin Air Pollution Control Officer Ted Schade said the Lion Fire has created a lot of questions and concerns about public health as smoke flows over the Sierra and into the Owens Valley.
Despite the smoky skies, Schade said particulate levels in the air have not exceeded the state’s 24-hour standard.
“We’ve had a few hours over the last couple days where the particulate level was over the standard, but the state standard is a daily, 24-hour average, and the average has not exceeded the standard,” Schade said.
Schade said he is noticing heavy particulate levels in the southern reaches of the county earlier than in the northern areas, and pointed out that fire managers recently set up a temporary monitoring station in the Paradise area to keep track on particulate levels at a variety of elevations, as the smoke seems to linger longer at higher elevations.
Up until this week the National Park Service has allowed the blaze, burning in the Sequoia National Forest west of Inyo County, to run its natural course, burning dead, dying and downed brush, trees and debris.
As the fire grew this week, officials began lighting backfires to help moderate its intensity and began implementing fire control measures.
As of Thursday, the blaze was 15 percent contained.
“Aerial ignitions completed to the northwest have met the main fire that crossed Soda Spring Creek and have helped moderate the fire intensity in this area,” a press release from the National Park Service states. “On the west, structure protection of the Peck’s Cabins, a private in-holding surrounded by Golden Trout Wilderness, continues with burning operations near the cabins and along Peck’s Creek to the south to secure that line.”
To the north, fire crews have completed burnout and other structure protection operations for the Quinn Patrol Cabin, which was constructed in 1906 for use by the U.S. Cavalry as a patrol cabin for the recently-formed park.
On the south and east side of the blaze, firefighters are working aggressively to prevent the fire from spreading across Lion Creek.
Fire officials are currently utilizing a pack train of 30 horses and mules to bring in supplies to firefighters working to contain the blaze.
Animals from seven national forests in California are part of the packing effort, which is being coordinated by the U.S. Forest Service’s regional pack stock program.
“Pack animals have been used in remote parts of the Sierra Nevada for generations,” said Michael Morse, wilderness and pack stock program manager for the Inyo National Forest. “By supplying the firefighters with horses and mules, we are able to both minimize the use of motorized equipment in the wilderness and pass on packing skills to the next generation of wilderness managers.”
Hauling approximately 1,200 pounds per trip, the pack train can supply a crew of 20 people for three days.
For the time being, “residents and visitors should continue to expect smoke in the Kern River Valley, Eastern Sierra towns, and the mountain communities of Tulare County,” the Park Service said.
The fire has resulted in an area closure for parts of the Golden Trout Wilderness and Sequoia National Park. Fire information and a closure map can be found on Inciweb: http://inciweb.org/incident/2400/.
Anyone planning to travel into the Forest’s Wilderness is asked to contact the Western Divide Ranger District at (559) 539-2607. For those planning wilderness travel in the southern area of Sequoia National Park, call the (559) 565-3766.

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