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‘Nothing we can do’ about smoke, says Great Basin

September 25, 2010

Residents of the Eastern Sierra continue to cope with haze and smoke as the Sheep Fire in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park continues to burn.
Fire lines have been cut to stop the fire’s progress, but officials – reluctant to say exactly when the fire will be out and the skies will clear up – are hopeful that the three-month-old, 7,800-acre blaze will be out soon.
The fire was ignited by a lightning strike in early July, and has burned 3,089 in Kings Canyon National Park and 4,798 in the Sequoia National Forest.
After nearly three months, the U.S. Forest Service took steps to stop the spread of the blaze earlier this month, but Deb Schweizer, public information officer for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, said the National Park Service does not want to project a suppression date.
Fire crews began burn-out operations south of Deer Meadow last Sunday to stop the spread of the Sheep Fire.
Burn-out operations use controlled fires to remove fuels from between the active wildfire and fire lines constructed by crews.
“We know there have been a lot of complaints about smoke, but this fire has been actively managed,” Schweizer said. “Most of this has to do with fire safety. The terrain up there is very steep.”
Schweizer said that the current fire line has been constructed in one of the only places firefighters can reach and, if the line holds over the weekend, she said the fire won’t burn much longer.
“The big question this weekend is going to be if that line is going to hold. It’s going to be hot and dry, but if that line holds, things will be looking really good,” Schweizer said.
If those lines hold, the fire may be out sometime in October.
Ted Schade, air pollution control officer for Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District, said the Owens Valley receives smoke when high pressure systems come into the area.
High-pressure systems are expected to move into the region over the next several days.
“We’ve expressed our concerns about the high level of smoke in our communities, but that’s about all we can do,” Schade said.
According to Schade, the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District has agreements with local agencies that require them to stop burning if particulate levels in Eastern Sierra communities get too high, however, there is no such agreement with Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is regulated through the San Joaquin Unified Air Pollution Control District, which toured the blaze earlier this week and has been working with the National Park Service to limit smoke on the west side of the Sierra.
Because the blaze is burning directly west of Independence, that community is bearing the brunt of the smoke.
“At any given time, if it is smoky in Bishop, the smoke is three times as bad in Independence,” Schade said. “Independence is for sure the worst, but all our communities have seen effects.”
Residents of Inyo County have lodged complaints with Great Basin, but Schade said local citizens are just going to have to wait it out.
“They’re really excited about this fire because that area hasn’t burned for more than 100 years,” Schade said. “We’ve gotten a few complaints, but we don’t have any kind of agreement with the National Park Service, so there’s really nothing we can do.”

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