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High winds prompt burn ban, health advisories

December 1, 2011

Wind gusts nearing 50 miles per hour Wednesday hammered the northern end of the county, knocking down tree limbs, power poles and blowing roofing materials off buildings. Above, the Bishop Volunteer Fire Department tries to secure the roof of the Smart & Final shopping center building. Photo by Mike Gervais

CalFire and air quality control officials are on full alert this week due to extreme winds that began hammering the Eastern Sierra yesterday.
The state fire agency suspended all burn permits on state responsibility lands within Inyo, Mono and San Bernardino counties, while Great Basin Air Pollution Control District issued health advisories related to blowing dust.
According to a press release from CalFire, the burn permits were suspended “because of the anticipated severe windy period being forecast for this week, which, when combined with the dry vegetation throughout the region creates a high potential for wildland fire.”
The burn suspension was instituted Wednesday morning and will be in effect until it is lifted by CalFire.
Winds primarily impacted the north end of the Eastern Sierra much of Wednesday, from Bishop into Nevada. By about 1:30 p.m., winds had picked up in Southern Inyo as well, with blowing dust beginning to obscure the views of the mountains there.
As wind speeds increased Wednesday morning in the Bishop area (with an average wind speed of 20 miles per hour and gusts in excess of 40 miles per hour), the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District issued a stage two health advisory due to “extreme particulate pollution levels.”
As part of the advisory, Great Basin encouraged people to stay indoors and avoid strenuous outdoor activities in the dust impacted area.
And the winds bring more than just harmful particles in the air.
“The forecast possibility of unusually strong winds combined with the dry vegetation across the wildland areas of Southern California and the areas of Inyo and Mono counties increases the potential for fire ignitions,” CalFire San Bernardino Unit Chief Tim McClelland said early Wednesday morning. “By taking this step, we hope to reduce the accidental fire starts that can threaten life and property within Inyo, Mono and San Bernardino counties.”
In addition, CalFire will have all stations open and staff ready to respond to any calls that come through.
“This is one of the unique capabilities of CalFire in that while the stations were recently closed for winter staffing, they have been re-staffed with a full complement of firefighters,” the press release states. “Calfire is also increasing the fire engine staffing in the Riverside and San Diego Units as well.”
CalFire will also have helicopter 305 on line and ready to respond to any emergency that may arise from the winds.
“Fire safety needs to be on the mind of all the residents of Inyo, Mono and San Bernardino counties, especially those who live and recreate in the mountains and wildland areas,” McClelland said.
According to CalFire, of the 20 most destructive fires in California, 18 have occurred between August and November. Of the 20 largest California fires, 14 have been between August and October.
“Residents in the urban intermix and wildland areas need to maintain a fire safe clearance of a minimum of 100 feet around all structures or to the property line,” CalFire San Bernardino Unit Fire Prevention Battalion Chief Preston Fouts said.
Damage from the wind yesterday, meanwhile, was reportedly varied and widespread, attributed mostly to falling tree limbs and blowing debris.
At press time, the Bishop Volunteer Fire Department had responded to or was responding to reports of tree limbs on power lines, a leaning power pole, a tree across West Line Street at Shepard Lane and an errant piece of metal on the roof of the Smart & Final shopping center.

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