Investigators have determined that the Five Bridges Fire that broke out Friday morning north of Bishop was “suspicious” in nature.
CalFire Public Information Officer Bill Peters said that an official cause of the blaze has not yet been determined, but investigators have said the fire was human-caused.
Peters said the four-acre, wind-driven fire was reported at about 9:30 Friday morning, and was controlled by the early afternoon thanks to a joint effort by CalFire, the Bishop Volunteer Fire Department, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
A steady breeze ignited a spot fire a few hundred yards south of the main blaze shortly before 11 a.m., but Peters said crews were able to douse the spot and keep the main fire from spreading.
The fire was fully contained at about 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon.
Peters said the Owens Valley generally sees an increase in wildfires on public lands in early spring, as temperatures begin to rise and recreation picks up, but before the “green-up,” when the local vegetation prepares for warmer temperatures by sending water from their roots to their leaves. “The more moisture you have in the vegetation, the harder it is for it to carry a fire,” he said.
Peters explained that in the cold winter months, the plants send water to their roots below ground to prevent them from freezing. While the leaves are dry, the plants are much more susceptible to fire.
“For the Owens Valley, that is more of the fire season, in February, March and April,” Peters said. “Down here (in Southern California) we tend towards the summer months.”
The Owens River is a common location for these early spring fires.
Friday’s blaze off of Five Bridges Road – not far from the Owens River as it flows toward U.S. 6 at the turnoff to Laws – is not the first suspicious brush fire to break out along the river in the month or two leading up to the Fishing Season Opener. In 2007 alone, there were as many as four suspicious fires over three months (March, April and May), all located on or very near the Owens River between Pleasant Valley Reservoir and Big Pine.
Earlier this year, 250 acres of thick tules and undergrowth burned up Feb. 24 in a fast-moving brush fire near the Lower Owens River. The cause of that blaze has not been released.
Peters said he couldn’t say for sure exactly what causes the outbreak of river fires each year, but said it may be a combination of more residents spending time in the dry brush before the green-up.
“There can be a variety of different causes for these fires, but it does seem to pick up around this time, but there’s nothing to suggest anything untoward,” Peters said.
To help prevent fires while out recreating this spring, Peters said residents should follow a few basic rules of thumb, which include never parking vehicles in dry brush, which, during this time of year, can be ignited by hot engines, keeping campfires in designated areas and not smoking in or around dry brush.
“We need to be very, very careful up there, particularly right now,” Peters said. “Number one, don’t light any type of fire in an area that isn’t appropriate for fire because you never know what a spark can do. The public really, really needs to be cognisant about where they are.”
In an effort to reduce the likelihood of a wildfire near Independence this spring and summer, Peters said the LADWP was conducting a 180-acre controlled burn north of Independence Monday morning.
He said fire crews from CalFire and the LADWP were standing by to ensure the blaze didn’t get out of hand.
By burning dead and downed brush before the peak fire season, CalFire says the LADWP is reducing the potential for a larger, out-of-control blaze later in the season by removing the most dangerous fuel sources.