San Gorgonio Wilderness is Burning Again!

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    • #4725

      Well the El Dorado Fire is now burning the San Bernardino Peak Trail. It looks like the San Gorgonio Wilderness is going to suffer again. The fire continues to spread across the wilderness just north of San Bernardino Peak. I know the fire fighter are working hard to protect property and lives. I guess we all have to face the fact that the forest will burn and change the way we know it. But it is a wilderness and fire is a part of it as much as we wish it wouldn’t be. What it looks like after the fire will be different but it still can be enjoyed. Our climate is changing whether we like it or not but we have to except it and appreciate the open and solitude places that make up the wilderness.

      Sorry everyone for the news.

      SGWA volunteer

    • #4729
      chris in redlands

      I replied to this, but my reply had a couple of links in it and appears to have been lost to the ether…

    • #4728
      chris in redlands

      Anyone who is interested in details on the fire would do well to check in on the daily briefing videos provided by the operation section chief. They can be found here.

      I’ve been watching them, along with keeping an eye on the fire’s spread as tracked by the VIIRS satellite, which measures reflected heat. This map i put together shows that VIIRS data, the calfire polygon for the fire boundaries, current wind direction and speed, and a point for Big Falls parking lot to quickly orient. I drew a polygon around the area that has burned in the last 24 hours, almost all of it in the wilderness. It’s an area of roughly eight square miles, covers the San Bernardino Peak trail from the trailhead to the Washington Monument, and is pretty likely to spread across the forsee creek trail into the Lake Fire burn scar and all the way down to Hwy 38.

      It’s very telling that in all the videos describing the firefighting efforts, not a single word is spoken about any effort to protect the wilderness. Today’s installment included descriptions of efforts to keep the fire from moving east of the ridge that drops from Wilshire Peak to Forest Falls. That’s not to protect the wilderness; it’s to protect Forest Falls from the catastrophic slides that would result from the denuding of that already totally unstable slope.

      I understand that people are concerned about people’s property in the mountain communities. Maybe at least the fire won’t get so hot that it sterilizes a lot of the soil, but anyone who’s been up the San Bernardino Peak trail and paid attention knows that there’s an insane amount of fuel in the forest, with blow-down stacked more than 20 feet high in some places.

      The wilderness is in a lot of trouble. I hope we learn something from this, but it sure doesn’t look like we’re gonna. Right now, i’m kind of numb. As inevitable as this was, it’s still really sad.

    • #4731

      Sorry Chris I should have checked this thread earlier.

    • #4732
      chris in redlands

      Thanks Cyndi! No worries.

      Today the fire appears to be burning in the canyon of Forsee Creek between johns meadow and Hwy 38. Last year, a buddy and I recreated a “fishing trip” i had read about in an old newspaper that John Surr (johns meadows’ namesake) had taken some friends on, going directly up forsee creek from highway 38. What a magical place! Yosemite-like views. Very rugged, and some mandatory third class along waterfalls, but beautiful. Tragic to think that that’s on fire. Here’s an album of photos from that day.


    • #4733

      And here goes Forsee. Picture from the curve right before the turnoff for Jenks below. Not my picture. Hoping intensity stays low as well.

      A natural occurrence no doubt. Inevitable it may be just wish it was due to natural causes. I’d be less bitter about it. Too many major fires in the SGW in too short of time.

      Really glad I hit both Forsee and SB Peak trail most frequently over the past couple years compared to the others. I recall regretting changing Fish Creek plans when the Lake Fire kicked in. Just went through there the first time since two days before the El Dorado Fire.


    • #4737

      While I certainly appreciate the tremendous work being done by firefighting crews, there does not seem to be the same sense of urgency in protecting the wilderness from massive, long lasting damage as there is when it comes to protecting structures. I am dismayed that the fire was allowed to come down the ridge towards Forest Falls, and then cross Hwy 38, making its way into the high country….I’m not a an expert, but it seems that the highway and creek bed should have served as some sort of fire break, providing an opportunity to slow or stop the advancing flames…..maybe it’s time to revisit, rethink and reinvent the way we manage and fight forest fires. Thanks for all yours efforts……stay safe out there!

    • #4738
      chris in redlands

      Yesterday’s morning briefing video included a statement to the effect of “the fire is behaving like a controlled burn, so it’s probably doing the forest some good” which i took as very encouraging. That was before the fire made it’s latest push. If the VIIRS satellite data is to be believed, the area of active burning in the 12 hours up to now (0900 18SEP20) include an 18-square mile swath, extending roughly from the san bernardino peak trail to the south fork trail, above dry lake, north of jenks lake road, and well south of the divide below anderson, almost to the falls creek trail around 9,000 feet.

      That data isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty reliable. it looks like the fire met the lake fire scar and kept going? I can see that being the case, as the first couple of drainages east of the forsee creek trail were not burned nearly as thoroughly as parts of the mountain further east.

      I’ve been drawing polygons on my map linked to above, tracking 12-hour active burning areas based on VIIRS data. The red dots on that map are hotspots detected in the last 12 hours.

      Bad times for the wilderness.

    • #4739

      This thread is a rollercoaster of emotions.

      Sadness: With the understanding that these old growth mature forests can probably never recover with the modern climate, and the liklihood that this fire will exterminate trout populations (as the lake fire did with Fish Creek and SF Santa Ana).


      Joy: To see those pictures from the forsee adventure… something that i similarly attempted about a decade ago in search of a rumored stocking of Cutthroat in “A Santa Ana River Headwater Tributary, above the barrier falls”. I had hypothesized that it was forsee based on mapping and we made it as far as the choke point below the falls but couldn’t find a route around that seemed like we could traverse again downhill. I am committed to going back as soon as legal to recreate in the area again.

      Frustration: to see how, frankly, replaceable privately owned buildings are treated as infinitely more valuable than the irreplaceable publicly owned wilderness, precious escapes from the modern world.


      Fatigue: knowing that this story is far from over as the fire rages on.


      Regret: for all the opportunities I didn’t take to explore more of this area when I had the chance.


      Thankfulness – for the opportunities I did get to explore this truly remarkable area.



    • #4740

      Add to the “good news:” Snow fire at 3500 acres with 5% containment in the Snow Creek area north of Mt San Jacinto. Yosemite and SEKI closed. It was 104 fricking degrees in Santee (eastern border of San Diego) today. California cannot catch a break right now. Can we fast forward to 2021?

    • #4745
      Ben Crowell

      rayfound wrote:

      “these old growth mature forests can probably never recover with the modern climate”

      To be fair, the state of these forests that we’ve gotten used to during our lifetimes is probably nothing like their pre-Columbian state. In many areas such as Idyllwild and Big Bear the density of mature trees is 10-100 times what it would be naturally.

      People like us who enjoy these areas as playgrounds are part of the problem, as are people who live at the wilderness boundary. The kind of lush landscape we had 10 years ago in an area like the South Fork trailhead was beautiful but totally unsustainable.

      Bob wrote:

      “there does not seem to be the same sense of urgency in protecting the wilderness from massive, long lasting damage as there is when it comes to protecting structures. I am dismayed that the fire was allowed to come down the ridge towards Forest Falls, and then cross Hwy 38, making its way into the high country”

      We should be realistic about what firefighters can do. They can’t get water or heavy equipment up and down these steep hillsides. Populated areas have roads, which allow them to bring in people and resources, and also to get them out safely if necessary. The recent death of the firefighter in this area should serve as a reminder of how constrained they are by safety. There is also a lack of manpower, especially with the much bigger Bobcat fire going on at the same time. I’m also not convinced at all that the wilderness would have been left more healthy if they had somehow managed to prevent these areas from burning. At some point this fuel was going to burn. Preventing fires for a century is what led to the huge piles of fuel.

      I’m just hoping that these areas in the San Bernardinos don’t get colonized by poodle dog bush the way the Wilson area has. Haven’t seen any of it yet in the South Fork area, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

      • #4747

        To be fair, the state of these forests that we’ve gotten used to during our lifetimes is probably nothing like their pre-Columbian state. In many areas such as Idyllwild and Big Bear the density of mature trees is 10-100 times what it would be naturally.

        Care to elaborate on this? I mean, talking specifically of the Lake Fire area, the fire didn’t so much cleanse and reset the forest as abolish it, at least in the Fish Creek area near Heart Bar… and what is best is piles and piles of dead, dry, partially burned trunks standing (and fallen), and young chaparral coming up.


        But how is there “too many trees” in these areas relative to historic norms?


        To be clear, I am not sure what the answer is here.


    • #4746

      The amount debris on the forest floor in many areas due to the lack of nature fires over the years set the forest up for fires like El Dorado, Lake, Apple and Old. Johns Meadow used to have downed trees everywhere and the last time I hiked up from there to San Bernardino Peak the old trail was covered by a foot of pine needles shortly after you left Johns Meadow. I read (or heard) that this are hasn’t burned for 90 years.

      The fire crews are working very hard and I appreciate everything they have and continue to do to fight these fires. Having helped with the BAER team after the Old fire I understand some of the risks and difficulties these men and women face working to save our forest and properties.

    • #4751

      Can’t say I am a forestry or wildfire expert, and I  believe there are debates among the experts over these issues.  But it did occur to me that the many downed trees referred to may be due to higher temperatures, drought, insects, etc., rather than not enough fires.  The trees become weaker, and more likely to go down in a winter storm.  I certainly don’t remember the many downed trees across the trails after every winter that are normal now back in the 1970’s.  Also, mature forests don’t usually have much brush on the ground, they tend to be more park-like, because of the weak sunlight.  I would like to know the sources for some of the comments made.

    • #4766
      Ben Parker

      For any who are interested, there is a “soil burn severity” map for the El Dorado fire available now on the InciWEB web site. It’s part of their Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) effort.

    • #4796
      Tin Cup

      I was a firefighter for CDF (Cal-Fire) and USFS. These forests are unfortunately are way over grown . +100 yrs ago fires burned naturally but with low intensity burning up the ground fuels and essentially cleaning the Forest floor periodically. I recall reading  about a fire in the early 1920s that killed some folks so they started to extinguish these natural fires. The USFS realized this wasn’t a good idea and went back to a management style of fighting fire , which was to let it burn unless it was threating lives or property . Now with all these people that live in the forest areas the  USFS and other fire depts have no choice but to extinguish these as quick as possible , again not letting these fires naturally burn out forest litter, ultimately causing years of build up and so once a fire does get established it is very difficult to extinguish. Now with the wilderness area you cannot use any mechanical device (chainsaws , bulldozers etc ) in those areas , nor air tankers .

      • #4797
        chris in redlands

        You may be referring to the massive fire in Idaho, Washington, and Montana in 1910, which killed around 100 people and was unlike any fire people had ever seen. There’s a very good book about it called The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America which tells the origin story of the Forest Service, and the crazy story of the people who were there fighting the fire, pretty much just guessing what to do next, and not usually very successfully.

        If I recall correctly, there’s a good discussion in the book of how forest management plays into these wildfires. Not sure, it’s been a long time since i read it, but it’s definitely worth a read if you’re interested in the history of wildfires in the western US.

    • #4814
      Tin Cup

      Forest management is a huge factor into all this .

    • #4820

      All the experts agree that population increase and spread, drought, and climate change are major factors.  The related issues of fuel and forest management are far more controversial than is often represented, particularly as represented by CalFire, the USFS, and the logging industry.  For example, see this page and many others from the California Chaparral Institute for a different point of view.

      The CCI is in favor of community protection programs, but presents plenty of evidence that forest management is ineffective to harmful.  I would not describe myself as a total convert to their point of view, but the evidence they marshal is impressive.  On the practical side, I simply don’t see how you can manage the forests once you are any distance from communities and roads.  Not at any price the public is willing to pay, regardless of whether the price is measured in dollars or loss of wilderness.



    • #4828
      Tin Cup

      Essentially , we have done it to ourselves . And then complain about it . We can’t undo it .

      As far as managing forests far away from civilization. You let fires burn naturally. I have been on numerous fires to where if it isn’t threatening the local town then resources assigned are minimal and the fire is in more of a management stage instead of suppression  . Unfortunately Most every forest in California has some kind of town / community in it or around it which makes that style of management very unlikely.

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