Walker Fire 1

Photos courtesy US Forest Service

Silver Lining in All Those Snow Clouds?

As much of the Eastern Sierras hunkered down through long nights of rain, snow or both, the
one potential silver lining was a less perilous fire season. We were half right, according to Inyo
National Forest staff.

Forest Supervisor Lesley Yen and Interagency Fire Management Officer Larry Pingel provided a
fire season forecast at last week’s Mono County Board of Supervisors’ meeting. The message
was simple: The Eastern Sierra forests will still have a fire season, it will just be later than normal. Pingel ran through projections from the National Weather Service’s Reno Forecast
Office indicating a warmer than normal late spring into summer. “The potential for forest fires
is near normal, not high or extreme” Pingel explained. When expressed that way, near normal
almost sounds like a reprieve.

The problem is a summer predicted to be “warmer than normal.” With Inyo’s “normal” highs in
the low 100s, that’s not very reassuring. Mammoth Lakes fares better with normal highs hitting
between 75 and 80-degrees. Bridgeport is a bit toastier with an average daily high of 83-degrees in July. Pingel anticipates a ramp up in temperature by late summer through the fall. At one point, roughly 10 years ago, most of California escaped big wildland fires until fall.

The forests have benefited from the phenomenal moisture, but haven’t recovered from years
of drought. Some vegetation, like the manzanitas, have died off due to the record low temperatures in the forest this winter, adding to the fuel loads.

As for forest restrictions, Yen went through the process: first, no fires outside designated
campgrounds; no open fires anywhere and finally, forest closures. “Any restrictions,” she said,
“would be later this year and may not be consistent with Bureau of Land Management lands orthe Humboldt/Toiyabe National Forest.” The Forest Service is assessing damage in campsites, at least those assessable. Visitors should expect a delay in campsite openings.

With all the weather damage in the forest, not yet identified, Yen put the situation bluntly. A
primary consideration is putting people in places they may not be able to get out of.

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