Posts Tagged ‘Station Fire’

GAO Station Fire Investigation Update

Thursday, April 28th, 2011
Congressman Schiff, Stephen Gaty, Tom Harbour and Marty Dumpis.

Congressman Schiff's Panel

Today, April 28, 2011, Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) hosted a panel discussion on the ongoing investigation into the Station Fire being conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The room at Altadena Public Library was filled to capacity with standing room only, with several TV cameras and members of the Media there to cover the event.

CORBA’s Steve Messer was also in attendance, looking for answers to unresolved questions about how the fire was managed. Messer was in the forest the day the Station Fire began, scheduled to do trailwork on the Sam Merrill trail with CORBA’s volunteer trail crew.

On the panel were Congressman Schiff, Stephen Gaty from the GAO’s Natural Resources and Environment team, Tom Harbour, director of Fire and Aviation for the USFS, and Deputy Superintendent of the Angeles National Forest, Marty Dumpis.

After Congressman Schiff gave a brief outline of the process and a summary of people’s concerns about the fire, each of the panel members gave opening remarks outlining where they are in the ongoing evaluation, and what we can look forward to. We learned from Gaty that the investigation is expected to continue until the end of the year, at which time the full report will be published on the GAO’s web site. The objectives of the investigation are to determine: how the Forest Service responded to the fire, whether or not they followed established procedures, the key questions their response to the fire raised, and what they can learn from the incident moving forward.

Tom Harbour gave a rundown of how things have changed, and how the FS has prepared for the upcoming fire season. According to Harbour, the FS has renewed and strengthened its communications and agreements with the L.A. County fire department, and that they will be prepared. We were assured that it will be easier for the FS to summon assets from L.A. County in the event of another fire.

There are 80 rotor-wing aircraft and 18 tankers in the FS fleet, he said, though he didn’t make it clear that this is for the USFS nationwide. It is an aging fleet including WWII era craft, which they don’t want to “wear out” by double-shifting. Many were dismayed at this revelation.  He assured people that life and property are the FS first priority, while on the other hand seeming to indicate that the wearing out of an aging fleet takes precedence in the management of assets.

Harbour also reiterated that the FS continues to evaluate the addition of night-flying capability to their fire fighting assets, something that could have quelled the fire on its first day. The evaluation is expected to take a further two months. Cost is the biggest issue at this time. Audience members raised the question of whether a 25 million investment in additional aircraft could be weighed against the cost of damage and recovery efforts. According to Gaty, that would be beyond the scope of the GAO investigation.

Many in the audience were not impressed by what they were hearing. One Big Tujunga canyon resident asked about the FS policy regarding structures on leased land within the forest, vs. the policy regarding structures on private land within the forest. He turned and asked the gathered crowd how many had lost homes in the fire. More than a dozen hands went up. Mr. Harbour was placed on the spot several times in succession as members of the audience questioned a policy that left their homes undefended.

The biggest criticisms laid against the FS by Schiff and echoed by many in the audience, was the length of time this investigation is taking to complete. La Canada-Flintridge council member Laura Olhasso rebuked the FS for drawing out this process for so long, and urged them to speed up this process. The audience applauded her comments.

More Forest Openings Expected

Of particular interest to many is the length of time the forest has remained closed. Marty Dumpis publicly announced that approximately 98,000 acres of the 180,000 acres in the current closure are expected to open by memorial day weekend. That will include about 110 miles of re-opened trails. The openings will mostly occur in the northern, eastern and western borders of the current closure.  Trails may not be in the best shape, he said, but many FS personnel have expressed frustration at their inability to enforce the closure. An open forest is easier to manage than a closed one.

Dumpis made no mention of the Angeles Front Country. We will continue to work with the Forest Service to help survey and restore trails in the closure area.  Dumpis also added that the Big Tujunga Canyon area will likely remain closed for at least another year, as they monitor the recovery of endangered species and sensitive plant species.

Through a grant from the Air Quality Management District, they have begun re-planting about 11,000 acres of forest, mostly in the high country. 4,000 of those acres will be completed this year.

Public Input Requested

Gaty extended an invitation to anyone with information that may be relevant to the investigation to contact his office. Though he couldn’t confirm that every question would be answered by the investigation, he felt it important to gather as many of those questions and observations as people had.

Though the session was important, many left dissatisfied with what they learned, or rather, didn’t learn today.  We thank Congressman Schiff for continuing to move this investigation forward, and for involving the public in the process.

Friends of the Angeles Formation Meetings

Monday, April 18th, 2011

The Forest Service and the National Forest Foundation (NFF) are planning to host several meetings with existing and potential supporters of the Angeles National Forest to determine public interest in forming a Friends of the Angeles organization. The meetings will be held during the last week of April in three locations. A CORBA representative will be attending, and we hope to see other mountain bikers and multi-use trail advocates attend as well.

During the course of each meeting, there will be talk about the challenges the Angeles National Forest faces–particularly in light of the Station Fire–and how a Friends group could help. There will be a discussion of what form such a group might take, what supportive activities it might take on, and the steps involved in creating the organization.

All users of the Angeles National Forest to attend one of these sensing sessions, both to provide input and also to hear what others have to say. These meetings will provide an opportunity for us to share what we are already doing as “friends” of the Angeles, and how our efforts may be helped by an official Friends organization.

The information gathered at the meetings will be used to shape a Friends group that truly meets the needs and passions of all who care about the well-being of the Angeles National Forest.

Other similar groups can be found in the Inyo National Forest (Friends of the Inyo) and the San Bernadino National Forest (San Bernadino National Forest Association). The National Park Service has a web page with information on how to start a Friends group at http://www.nps.gov/partnership/friends_groups.htm.

If you have questions about the meeting, call Kathy Peterson, the partnership coordinator for the forest at 626-437-5789.

Meetings will be held:

Tuesday, April 26, 2011, 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm
Angeles National Forest Supervisor’s Office, 701 N. Santa Anita Ave, Arcadia, CA 91006.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011, 6:30 pm. – 8:30 pm
Big Pines Information Center, Angeles Crest Highway (Hwy 2), Wrightwood, CA 92397.

Thursday, April 28, 2011, 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm
San Gabriel Canyon Gateway Center, 1990 North San Gabriel Canyon Road (Hwy 39), Azusa, CA 91702

FHA Plans for Mueller Tunnel, Mt. Lowe Fire Road

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Mueller Tunnel 2006, Mount Lowe fire roadThe Mueller Tunnel has long been a right-of-passage for many mountain bikers riding the outstanding front country trails of the Angeles National Forest.  It is near Eaton Saddle along the Mount Lowe Truck Trail. The tunnel was closed after a landslide almost sealed the western end of the tunnel in 2009. The area has experienced many rock slides over the years. The steep, rocky terrain above the tunnel and fire road remain unstable and unsafe.

There has also been significant damage to the retaining walls which support the fire road next to the tunnel. Several years of heavy rain, and the subsequent Station Fire have kept the area closed for some time. In its current condition, the Mount Lowe Fire Road would remain closed even if the Station Fire closure order was removed.

Mt. Lowe Fire Road provides mountain bikers and hikers access to the Mt. Lowe trail, Sam Merrill Trail, Idlehour trail, and was a popular shuttle option from Mt. Wilson road. It was originally constructed in 1942. It also provides volunteer trail crews like CORBA’s convenient access to those trails for trailwork.

The Federal Highway Administration and the Angeles National Forest are proposing to reconstruct a portion of the roadway adjacent to the tunnel, to restore through access for Forest Service and fire fighting vehicles as well as for hiking, mountain biking and equestrian use. The construction would involve a new retaining wall to tie in to what remains of the existing retaining wall. The objective is to restore the fire road to existing roadway widths and stabilize the road.

Mueller Tunner riders, 2006, Mt. Lowe fire roadThe Federal Highway Administration is requesting public feedback on the project.  Feedback should be sent in by March 4, 2011 to Mr. Micah Leadford (HFPM-16), Federal Highway Administration, 12300 West Dakota Avenue, Suite 380, Lakewood, CO 80228 or by email to micah.leadford@dot.gov; by telephone at 720-963-3498.

CORBA will be submitting our feedback in the comings weeks.

Revised Station Fire Closure Order Issued

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

The forest service has just issued a revised closure order, going into effect tomorrow, January 22, 2011.

The only changes are the opening of the Red Box picnic area and Millard Campground. Though forest visitors will be able to stop, park and picnic at Red Box, all the surrounding trails remain closed. This order is in effect through January 21, 2012. The official notice and a map are available from the Forest Service web site.

According to the Forest Service, the area is still unstable and subject to slides, especially after events like the December storms. Canyons are also subject to flash flooding. Volunteer groups including CORBA have not been allowed to do any additional trailwork in the burn areas since the first rains of the winter season. However, much of the area is showing good signs of recovery.

Highway 2 remains closed between La Canada and Clear Creek, though it is now possible to drive to Red Box and Clear Creek from Upper Big Tujunga Canyon road.  Caltrans has not announced an expected opening date.

Mountain Bikers Preserving the Trails

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Sunday’s trailwork on El Prieto went exceptionally well. We had perfectly cool, clear weather, damp soil that was easy to work with, and good spirits all around. Thanks to the approximately 50 people who came out to show this heavily damaged trail some much-needed love.

Rock Armoring Teamwork

Rock Armoring Teamwork

In over 320 person-hours of labor, several washed out drainages were restored, brush was cut back, and many vulnerable sections of the trail tread received rock-armoring treatment. We were even able to restore one section of the original trail that had all-but vanished since the fires. With some diligent hand-tool work and brush cutting, the “cactus corner” section was re-cut and benched, and is ready for finish work.

Special thanks to the St. Francis high school mountain bike team, who came out in force to contribute. Of today’s volunteer trailworkers, more than half were high school team mountain bikers.

As high school students, not only did they learn about trail construction and sustainability, they also gained insight into what makes a “good” trail: how it flows, how it handles water, how sight-lines affect safety on the trail and many other tidbits that one usually doesn’t have time to think about when riding a trail.

Another wonderful aspect of high-school team riders is that many of their parents also get involved. Many are introduced not only to the sport of mountain biking, but to volunteerism and trail stewardship. At least eight parents of high school racers also put sweat equity into the trail on Sunday.

The Forest Service is also requiring all volunteer trail working groups to use safety gear including gloves and hard hats. Thanks to the generous support of REI we were able to outfit all our volunteers with hard hats, a first for CORBA trail crews. We also thank Flat Attack tire sealant for their support of CORBA’s programs.

Special thanks also to Banner Moffat and the Friends of El Prieto, for their ongoing regular work that has helped keep this trail from disappearing altogether since the Station Fire, even though it remains closed to the public. We’re hoping that El Prieto will be a top priority for re-opening by the FS after the rain season ends.

El Prieto trailwork

The original trail restored

Flash flooding and unstable hillsides are still major concerns, and the reason this and many other Station Fire trails will remain closed at least through next spring. In a recent meeting with the non-motorized trails supervisor for the forest, we discussed some creative ways that CORBA, the Friends of El Prieto and other volunteers might work together to open this trail sooner, rather than later. Some possibilities might include a “conditional” opening, where the trail would be closed at any sign of rain, and surveyed after each rain for safety. At this point, the mountain bike community would welcome any access to El Prieto.

Keeping the trail in good shape is the first and most important step towards that goal. Thanks again to everyone who came out!

Station Fire Closure Order Extended

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

Last week the Forest Service issued an updated closure order for the Station Fire burn areas of the Angeles National Forest. The closure order has been extended until 9/19/2011. Part of the Forest has been opened. Unfortunately, the newly re-opened section of the forest is limited to a small portion in the Sunland area. This is much less than most had hoped for, but includes areas around the Doc Larsen trail which CORBA trail crews worked on back in June and July.

Here is the official press release from the Forest Service:

Date: Sept. 17, 2010
ANF Release # 10-12

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Angeles National Forest
701 N. Santa Anita Avenue
Arcadia, CA 91006

www.fs.fed.us/r5/angeles

Contact: Sherry Rollman or
John D. Wagner at (626) 574-5208

Angeles National Forest reopens areas offering hiking, picnicking

ARCADIA, Calif.–Angeles National Forest will reopen an area about five miles long and two miles wide, northwest of Sunland, closed since the Station Fire last year.

The reopening of the Little Tujunga-Riverwood area is set for Monday (Sept. 20) and will offer the public recreation including picnicking and hiking. The area is being opened after trail improvements and storm-debris removal were completed.

The bulk of the forest’s burned areas remain closed for public safety, until further notice. “The Forest Service intent is to reopen areas severely damaged in the fire over the next few years as conditions allow,” said Jody Noiron, forest supervisor.

“We are developing a cohesive plan to create healthier, more sustainable ecosystems, involving water, vegetation and wildlife,” Noiron said. “We are making the hard decisions toward a healthier open-space for the L.A. basin in the future.”

Reopenings are taking place through a restoration plan, which engages the public on improving the health of the San Gabriel Mountains, and enlists volunteers.

The Forest Service invites volunteers, partners and others to help the forest with its natural resource conservation needs. If individuals or groups are interested in joining the efforts please visit our website at http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/angeles/.

The forest order for the pending reopening and an official map can also be viewed on the website.

Order No. 01-10-05
AREA CLOSURE
ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST
Pursuant to 16 USC 551 and 36 CFR 261.50(a) and (b), and to protect natural resources and provide for public
safety, the following acts are prohibited within the Station Fire Recovery Area of the Angeles National Forest. This
Order is effective from September 20, 2010, through September 19, 2011.
1. Going into or being upon National Forest System lands within the Station Fire Recovery Area, except
the Hidden Springs Day Use Area and Monte Cristo Campground. The Station Fire Recovery Area is
described in Exhibit A and shown on Exhibit B. 36 CFR 261.53(e).
2. Being on any National Forest System road within the Station Fire Recovery Area, which is described in
Exhibit A and shown on Exhibit B. 36 CFR 261.54(e).
3. Being on any National Forest System trail within the Station Fire Recovery Area, which is described in
Exhibit A and shown on Exhibit B. 36 CFR 261.55(a).
Pursuant to 36 CFR 261.50(e), the following persons are exempt from this Order:
1. Persons with a permit from the Forest Service specifically authorizing the otherwise prohibited act or
omission.
2. Owners or lessees of private land within the Station Fire Recovery Area are exempt from the prohibitions
listed above to the extent necessary to gain access to their land.
3. Persons who reside on private land within the Station Fire Recovery Area are exempt from the prohibitions
listed above to the extent necessary to gain access to their residences.
4. Persons with a special use permit or contract from the Forest Service authorizing work within the Station
Fire Recovery Area and their employees, sub-contractors, or agents are exempt from the prohibitions listed
above to the extent authorized by the special use permit or contract.
5. Any Federal, State, or local officer, or member of an organized rescue or fire fighting force in the
performance of an official duty.

Angeles National Forest Recovery Plans

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

There was an informational meeting on the recovery plans for the Angeles National Forest May 26, 2010 at the Eaton Canyon Nature Center.  Representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders, the Sierra Club, TreePeople, Student Conservation Association, Caltrans, and Outward Bound were present.

The intent of the Recovery Plan is to create a more ecologically sustainable forest than before and to build a community of involved users.

There was a brief mention of San Gabriel Mountains Forever, a group the Sierra Club supports and that has the goals of promoting the proposed San Gabriel National Recreation Area and of increasing wilderness in the San Gabriels.  CORBA is investigating this wilderness proposal and its potential impact on multi-use trails.

An intern from Congressman Schiff’s office announced an upcoming informational meeting on the Rim of the Valley Corridor Special Resource Study.  The Corridor is a Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy project to expand the National Recreation Area. The meeting will be at the Nature Center at 10 am, Friday, June 4.

Mike MacIntyre, the River District Ranger for the Angeles National Forest discussed the new closure order.  Details of that are on the ANF web site.  He showed some photos of the extensive damage to the upper Arroyo Seco, Gould Mesa Road, several fire stations, Grizzly Flats Road, and Vogel Flats area.  He reported that a large boulder had been blasted from the Mt. Wilson Toll  Road near Mt. Harvard. He also confirmed that Millard campground is open, but not El Prieto, Sunset Ridge or other trails.  They are looking to open more areas by the July 4th weekend.

He noted about 35,000 acres of forested land burned, 24,000 of that was pretty much denuded and may not come back on its own.  There are plans to reforest about 11,000 acres of the 24,000.  Seedlings were not available to get started this year, and planting is expected to start with an initial 4400 acres in early 2011.  Carbon credits, grants, and Congressional sources will fund the project.<

A representative from the Tree People explained that there is a narrow window for replanting because the soil has to warm and be moist. If they wait too long it is too hot and dry for the seedlings to survive without watering, which is usually not practical.  They are recruiting and training for 2011 now.  Tree People are the lead group on the reforestation efforts.

Bob Cates reported that the Sierra Club’s Angeles Forest Restoration Project will be working on trails the 2nd and 4th Saturday of every month starting in July. They have 380 volunteers signed up. They focus on the area up Highway 39 to Crystal Lake.

The Student Conservation Association is 50+ years old, but until 2004 did not have a presence in SoCal.  They have both paid workers and non-paid volunteers. Besides doing all kinds of conservation related work, they encourage participants to consider careers in forestry, wildlife management, conservation, etc.  They have some crews working with the USFS on the fire recovery.  These crews work for several weeks at a time, so can get into back country and handle more complex jobs.

The final speaker was Patrick Chandler from Caltrans District 7.  There were 25 washouts or slides along the closed section of Highway 2.  Caltrans are hoping to have it open by mid-July.  Most of the problem was that the debris flows blocked all the drains, then the water washed across the road and off the down side eroding the shoulders and below and undermining the roadbeds. Although the engineers wanted to, they are not going to build any bridges, as there are no funds available.

Thanks to CORBA member Mitch Marich for the report.

ANF Opens Campgrounds, But Few Trails

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

The Angeles National Forest issued a revised Closure order this week, just in time for Memorial Day weekend. While very little has been opened, campgrounds such as Horse Flats, Chilao and Millard are now open for camping.

But don’t get too excited. None of the trails around Millard (Sunset Ridge, Dawn Mine, El Prieto) are open. Work on the restoration of Sunset Ridge continues, and El Prieto has had extensive restoration work done, though according to FS officials neither are ready or safe enough for general use. Fire roads in the area are also extensively damaged.

In the Chilao area, sections of the Silver Mocassin trail are unburned and will probably be open, but the traditional figure-eight loop we all love is not possible, as the Vetter Trail and other sections of the Silver Mocassin and Hillyer trail are impassable and most likely in the closed area.

A map of the new closure order area is posted on the FS web site, though the resolution is not high enough to definitively determine which trails are officially open. They expect to have a higher resolution map available soon. In the meantime, obey all trail closure signs and be safe if you’re heading up there.

If you plan to visit the area, also remember that the Angeles Crest Highway between La Canada and Red Box remains closed. Caltrans has revised it’s projected completion of repairs, and we may see this section of highway open by the end of this summer. You need to access the Forest from Big Tujunga Canyon to Upper Big Tujunga Canyon, or via the Angeles Forest Highway to the north.