Fires spread across eastern Sierras
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Three wildfires ignited by a lightning storm were still spreading quickly Saturday afternoon through a popular wilderness park in the Sierra’s eastern front, officials said.
No injuries or fatalities had been reported, but more than 400 firefighters were battling the blaze that consumed at least 17,000 acres of the 2-million-acre Inyo National Forest, forest spokeswoman Nancy Upham said.
Firefighters were also searching for and evacuating an unknown number of day hikers and overnight backpackers. The blazes are completely uncontained, she said.
Highway 395, which runs along the eastern spine of the mountain range, briefly reopened Saturday morning but officials closed it again from Lone Pine to Big Pine after fires continue to expand. Many smaller roads leading from the highway into the mountains were also closed. Numerous campgrounds and a lodge had been evacuated, Upham said.
“Things are very active right now,” Upham said. “We will eventually get the upper hand but right now it’s hot, extremely low humidity, windy and we’re dealing with extremely dry vegetation.”
The hour-long storm that set off the blazes began around 2 p.m. Friday, igniting about 10 fires in and around the rugged park. The fires began in steep, difficult-to-reach terrain, stoked by daytime temperatures in the 90s and dry air, officials said.
The fires had spread overnight beyond park boundaries, into nearby Bureau of Land Management territory, onto water-system land owned by the city of Los Angeles, and into the Fort Independence Indian Reservation.
Crews on Saturday continued to seek backpackers trekking through the John Muir Wilderness, a 100-mile stretch in the Sierra Nevada that includes the tallest peak in the lower 48 states, the 14,496-foot Mount Whitney. It is one of the most heavily visited wildernesses in the nation.
Upham said the backpackers didn’t appear to be in immediate danger. It was unknown how many hikers were on the trails, but about 25 cars were parked overnight Friday at the Onion Valley Trail Head.
Several ranches, houses and buildings were threatened by the fire but no damage has been reported, Upham said.
The flare-up came about a week after firefighters managed to fully contain the Lake Tahoe fire that consumed 3,100 acres south of the scenic alpine lake and destroyed 254 homes.
But Upham said the relatively remote location of the Inyo park fire made it “nothing like the scale of the Lake Tahoe fire.”
Meanwhile, nearly 300 miles north in the Plumas National Forest, a lightening storm Thursday sparked wildfires that had already torched 11,500 acres and were expected to consume more brush Saturday.
About 650 firefighters were battling a blaze near Antelope Lake on Saturday _ and officials say this weekend is a critical time because lightening is expected in Plumas County on Monday and Tuesday. The fire was only 10 percent contained Saturday morning but had not destroyed or damaged any buildings.
Upham emphasized that people planning trips to national forests or other wildernesses shouldn’t necessarily cancel because of fire danger, but she recommended that they take precautions like bringing a day’s worth of extra food in case a fire reroutes or blocks trails.
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