Aspen fire could burn all week

amoreno@fresnobee.comAugust 1, 2013 

— The Aspen fire northwest of Huntington Lake has burned about 11,000 acres as of Monday morning and is expected to continue burning through the week, the U.S. Forest Service said.

The fire, which was sparked by lightning July 22, was only 20 percent contained and was threatening three structures Monday. Nearly 1,400 personnel from throughout the state are fighting the fire, which is burning off Stump Springs Road, north of Aspen Springs, about seven miles north of Big Creek.

The Aspen fire is following the footprint of a 1939 wildfire — the last known wildfire in the area — that charred more than 39,000 acres, said Forest Service spokeswoman Anne Grandy.

While crews are trying to keep the fire from reaching that size, safety remains a top priority for everyone considering the steep, rugged terrain that ranges widely in elevation.

"Everyone is super aware of the safety measures and that this is really dangerous territory," she said. "Fire runs especially fast on this terrain."

Grandy said everyone is on high alert after the deaths last month of 19 Arizona firefighters battling the Yarnell Hill fire.

"Any accident is going to heighten awareness and remind everyone that fire can be dangerous and unpredictable," she said.

The steep terrain — ranging from 2,600 feet at the base of the San Joaquin River up to 7,300 feet in the mountains — has challenged firefighters, forcing them to use indirect methods to ensure personnel and public safety. Crews have built contingency lines one, two or even three ridges away from the flames to indirectly contain it.

But the lifting smoke can increase the rate of burning of the already swift-moving Aspen fire because the overall temperature in the region would climb a few degrees.

Stump Springs Road remains closed to all traffic. Minarets Road from Fish Creek to Jackass Rock Organization Campground and Grizzly Road to Beasore Road to Minarets are closed to the public. Those roads are open only to residents with proper identification, officials said. Highway 168 through Huntington Lake remains open.

Sixteen campgrounds have been evacuated because of the blaze. They are: Sample Meadow, West Kaiser, Soda Springs, Sweetwater, Placer, Jackass Organizational, China Bar, Little Jackass, Rock Creek, Fish Creek, Lower Chiquito, Huntington Lake Rancheria, Badger Flat, Midge Creek, Mammoth Pool and Wagner's Mammoth Pool Resort.

All trails and recreation areas within the Kaiser Wilderness remain closed.

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