MLFD to conduct wildland firefighting training

Over the next couple of weeks, the Mammoth Lakes Fire Department will be conducting some wildland firefighting training with its members in several neighborhoods in town.


Exercises of this nature are invaluable when it comes to pre-planning the tactics and strategies of fighting a moving wildfire front in a community such as Mammoth Lakes.  The Department does not want to alarm anyone and wants to get the word out that these exercises are going to take place.

The exercises will occur in the Juniper Ridge, Lower Majestic Pines neighborhood, the area between Snowcreek Crest and Snowcreek 1, 2, and 3, and in the entire Old Mammoth area west of Waterford and Ski Trail.

The training activities will occur on March 19 and 26 in the evenings from approximately 7pm to 9pm and will involve numerous pieces of equipment and personnel.  In some cases hoselines will be deployed between homes and minimal amounts of water flowed.  Also, to simulate spot fires, colored “Cyalume” light sticks will be placed and retrieved during the training.  Areas selected will be locations that will have little or no vegetative impacts.  Different techniques will be practiced that allow a crew to train in the tactical actions used to defend structures in the Wildland/Urban Interface.

If you would like more information on this or any other fire related matters, please feel free to contact the Mammoth Lakes Fire Department at (760) 934-2300.


7 Responses to MLFD to conduct wildland firefighting training

  1. Tinner March 10, 2015 at 10:45 am #

    I’ll put my dog inside the house, even though he’d rather be outside barking at them.

  2. wagonrd March 10, 2015 at 6:03 am #

    I opine that Mammoth’s next big fire will occuralong the road from Minaret Summit to Agnew Meadows. I’ve ridden my mountain bike down the Starjweather Trail and am astounded at the massive amounts of downed trees and limbs. It’s very steep terrain and a strong uphill wind would send a huge wall of flame uphill at warp speed. No amount of training will deal with that scenario.

    • Eastside Bum March 11, 2015 at 1:09 pm #

      Well, let us hope that never happens. Perhaps, in the near future, the Forest Service will have a fuel reduction program in place, for that location. We all value our trees, but I think something should be done soon.

    • Fred Richter March 13, 2015 at 10:50 pm #

      wagonrd, that scenario was on my mind quite often when I drove the Reds Meadow road during the time I worked for the U.S. Forest Service on the Mammoth Ranger District, Inyo National Forest from 1988-1999. I was the frontcounty recreation field supervisor and I gave thought to this type of incident many times while descending the road to Agnew shortly after taking my position here. A strong south/southwest wind would blow a fire right up the canyon and possibly upslope to Minaret Vista. The strongest winds in the Mammoth area are almost always from the south/southwest. If a fire reached Minaret Summit it would need a west/northwest wind to move it toward town, a less likely event during the fire season.

      The Rainbow Fire of 1992 was pushed by a strong southerly wind that began after an inversion in the valley lifted as a result of a strong dry cold front arriving the day after the fire was discovered. This caused the fire to “blowup” in wildland fire lingo. I was in charge of a Forest Service/Mono Sheriff’s Department operation to evacuate the valley the day prior to this blowup. Thinking of a scenario of a fire on the slope near Starkweather Lake helped me develop a plan to use for this situation. I felt fortunate that the road to Minaret Vista was open and that the fire never reached the area you mention.

      If an intense fire starts south of the Reds Meadow/Devils Postpile area or anywhere on the east slope of the valley the road between Agnew and Minaret Vista could be blocked. The meadows at Agnew, Pumice Flat and Reds would likely be used to keep people safe as these meadows qualify as safety zones, however, their vehicles and RV’s would be exposed to damage. When the Rainbow Fire was discovered the Forest Service made the decision to evacuate the valley within two hours, some 8 days after it started and the day prior to the blowup. This same thinking would govern should if another fire with potential extreme behavior present itself. Hopefully, this would be many hours before a possible road closure.

      Given that the strongest winds in the Mammoth area generally come out of the southwest I don’t think a fire on the slope above Starkweather would burn toward town. It would have to start burning in a southeasterly direction, driven by a northwest wind, to threaten the town. This would be almost a 180 degree shift in the winds that drove the fire upslope. A fire further south, in the Sotcher Lake area would present a different challenge.

      During the Rainbow Fire blowup spot fires stated near Horseshoe Lake and north of the Mammoth Mountain main lodge. The distances reflected extreme fire behavior. If the spot fires in the Mammoth Lakes Basin could not be controlled the fire might have moved to the north portion of the basin and the south slope of Dragon’s Back Ridge and toward Panorama Dome. The fuels on the north side of the basin are continuous all the way to Old Mammoth. Fuels are then connected to the Majestic Pines neighborhood and then east to parts of Old Mammoth road south of Main Street. This is the reason the Panorama Dome fuelbreak was constructed. This is why the fire department has thinned a fuel break on the town lands near Mammoth Creek. This is why clearance on private property in town, most especially Old Mammoth, is imperative.

      The fuelbreak at Panorama Dome, accomplished by the the Forest Service included extensive thinning where the forest was unnaturally dense, had a heavy load of ground fuel and a thick “understory” of younger trees that could provide a “ladder” for fires to reach the crowns of the largest trees. This provides a significant break in the long strip of fuels from Mammoth Pass to town.

      The Forest Service (using fuel, hotshot and engine crews) has been building a fuelbreak around town in cooperation with Cal Fire (using inmates from their camp near Bishop) and the Mammoth Fire Department for several years and needs to finish it, if not completed. After trees are thinned and brush cut the fuel is piled and later burned. In many locations these fuel breaks are immediately adjacent to private land. This process can be a temporary inconvenience to nearby homeowners.

      The management of the of the Valentine Reserve have done some thinning as well. The forest on the reserve was similar to Panorama Dome, where the forest was unnaturally dense, had a thick understory and a buildup of ground fuels, something that did not exist when fires were allowed to burn prior to the arrival of European man. Old Mammoth residents have commented to me that they dislike the forest being thinned, thinking they are living n a natural forest. In fact, it is far from natural. A study was done in the Inyo Craters area and determined that prior to natural fire exclusion 200 trees per acre existed and at the time of the study 2,000 trees per acre existed. A book titled “Fire in Sierra Nevada Forests’ by George Gruell, contains photos from all over the Sierra showing forest conditions before and after total fire suppression began. It is a significant eye opener and I recommend Mammoth Lakes residents take some time to look at it.

      There are easily available handouts and Internet pages that outline what property owners should do to make their homes less susceptible to fire. Everyone should follow the specifications outlined in those materials. Some trees close to their homes would have to be removed. We should not be in a position where a fire approaches or burns into town and be in the “shoulda, woulda, coulda” thinking afterwards. Damage that could have been avoided would be a likely result.

      We should congratulate the Mammoth Lakes Fire Protection District for taking assertive action to prepare ahead of time. Full cooperation and compliance should be obvious.

      It is imperative that property owners in forested areas of Mammoth Lakes understand the importance of taking aggressive action now before it is too late.

      This information and these opinions are my own and do not reflect those of the U.S. Forest Service, Cal Fire and the Mammoth Lakes FPD.

      Fred Richter
      Forester, U.S. Forest Service, Retired

      P.S. wagonrd, I think the fire would move up that slope at impulse power speed, warp speed is unlikely!

      Eastside Bum, at the beginning of my career with the Forest Service in 1974 I worked constructing fuel breaks. In 2000 the very comprehensive, interagency National Fire Plan was written. It identified fire critical communities and established the means for local collaboration using Fire Safe Councils. Additional fire resources were funded and the pace of forest thinning/fuel treatment was greatly increased. A drive through the forests near Mammoth and Mono Lake is a good way to see the increased pace the additional funding has provided.

      • Charles O. Jones March 14, 2015 at 9:48 am #

        Thank you for the informative post Mr. Richter

        • Fred Richter March 17, 2015 at 7:53 am #

          My post is long, but this is not a soundbite issue.

          When I mentioned that trees need to be removed close to homes and business structures I’m referring to trees within 30-50 feet and even touching structures. These may be aesthetically pleasing, but might as well be fuses laid out around buildings. An Internet search using the words “creating defensible space” will access useful information. Forest Service offices and Cal Fire facilities have brochures on the subject. Mammoth Fire Department personnel have been contacting property owners with this information, inspecting properties and issuing orders for property owners to create defensible space. Cooperating with these agencies is for your own benefit as well as the community as a whole. The department’s fire marshal has extensive experience with wildland fire that includes that as a smokejumper at the beginning of his career. He understands fire in a hands on way that only a minority of us do. This is similar to my experience that includes a career total of 108 wildland fires, including working on the line at Yellowstone National Park in 1988 as well as watching entire subdivisions burning to the ground.

          A good place to see where fuelbreak construction has been done is along both sides of U.S. 395 starting at the grade north of 203 and the Owens River Road. The project needs to be completed, however the east side of the road is very near completion. The west side of the road needs completion from south of the rest area to the Scenic Loop and from that point south to the grade north of 203. All this thinning by the Forest Service has been preceded by commercial sales of trees large enough to sell as firewood. The smaller unmerchantable material is thinned by USFS crews, pilled and burned. Some thick patches of trees are left in certain locations to provide cover for wildlife crossing the highway. Such patches are normal in natural stands of timber and are needed for species survival.

          Thinning of the tallest and mature trees is not done. Many people confuse “thinning” with saw timber harvesting. Saw timber sized trees are the most fire resistant trees in a forest, the overstory” portion of forests. The fire problem lies with the smaller trees closer to the ground in what is called the “understory.” The unnatural conditions created by total fire suppression of all fires in the last 100 years is in the understory. Prior to that periodic fires naturally thinned the understory, eliminating trees that could potentially provide a ladder for fire to be carried into the foliage of the tallest trees. It also consumed ground fuels such as dead logs, branches and thick deposits of needles. These fires were of low intensity and such fires were common, all started by lightning.

          The frequency of such natural fires spreading from single trees varies depending on the predominant species of the forest. The frequency increases as the elevation decreases. This is called the “natural fire regime” of a forest. The interruption of this regime leads to high intensity fires and affects other resources as well. These effects include such things as natural stream and spring flows and wildlife habitat. Trees start to encroach meadows and grasslands. Locally this can be seen in the smaller tree, mostly lodgepole pine sprouting in Tuolumne Meadows and pinyons in sagebrush and grass. East of Mammoth on State Highway 203, jeffery pine is growing in locations formally occupied by sagebrush and grass.

          A walk through the forest in the vicinity of the Motocross track and the YMCA camp finds thick stands of white fir in the understory. Natural fire periodically burned white fire trees before they became tall enough to become ladder fuels. Thick white fir understories are particularly unnatural. Natural fire regimes eliminated the potential for white firs to grow thickly with only a few isolated trees of this species surviving and maturing.

          I mention these things as people need to adjust their perspectives that “green is good and black is bad” when looking at forests. Such thinking led to the suppression of all fires, including period naturally ignited fires. The result is more damaging and destructive fires, modification of wildlife habitat, and reduction in flows and water quality of streams and springs as well as loss of vegetation types such as grasslands, meadows and sagebrush. Mechanical thinning and prescribed fires are used to restore the natural fire regime in forests and grasslands. The agencies involved in this effort need support and cooperation rather than ill advised criticism.

          • sugar magnolia March 17, 2015 at 9:02 am #

            interesting comments Fred. When you talk about trees touching structures, I think of Mammoth Lakes, where the town would not let trees be cut down, even to the point of having decks built around trees or sometimes a cut out in the roof eves to let a tree stay in place!

            Now, after years of creating this unsafe situation, they and the fire marshall are trying to be heavy handed…30′ clear space between your wood pile and your house…what a croc, no-one in mammoth has 30′ between their house and their neighbors! I guess I could say to my neighbor, you stack your wood against my house and I’ll stack mine against yours and we’re in compliance!

            How about the town make up for its sins and offer to pay to remove problem trees that should have been removed when the home was built but ToML would let it be. I don’t propose denuding entire lots, but when a home needs to run heat 24/7 because the sun can’t shine through all the trees around, that’s a shame. Natural sunlight can reduce heating needs by 50%!


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