MERCED — My most sincere thanks go out to the firefighters and other emergency response personnel who have been risking their lives to bring the Rim fire under control.
The fire has burned nearly 190,000 acres in Tuolumne and Mariposa Counties since it began Aug. 17. Many areas remain under evacuation orders and the entire southern part of Sequoia National Forest (the Groveland Ranger District) is under a temporary closure. Highway 120 remains closed outside of Yosemite's western boundary.
Because of this year's extreme danger, fire restrictions have been put into effect throughout the state. Here's a summary of current restrictions for national forest lands in the Sierra Nevada:
Sequoia National Forest and Giant Sequoia National Monument: Campfires are prohibited in this southernmost part of the Sierra. Gas stoves and lanterns may be operated with a California Campfire Permit in established recreation areas only.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks: Campfires are prohibited below the 6,000 foot elevation level. Above this elevation they are allowed in campgrounds, but not outside of them.
Sierra, Inyo, El Dorado, Tahoe, and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forests, and the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Area: Campfires are allowed in developed campgrounds only. Portable stoves and lanterns may be operated in other areas with a California Campfire Permit.
Yosemite National Park: Campfires are allowed in developed campgrounds.
Stanislaus National Forest: Although the Groveland Ranger District and part of the MiWok Ranger District are currently closed to the public, other parts of the forest are open. Because the Rim fire is burning in this forest and evacuation orders have been extended as far as Pinecrest, it's probably not a good camping choice until the fire is out. If you plan a trip there, call for current campfire/stove/lantern regulations and for recommended destinations.
Wilderness Areas: Throughout most of the Sierra's wilderness areas, backpackers are currently prohibited from building campfires. If you're planning a trip, check with the ranger station that issues your wilderness permit.
Of course in such a dry year there's danger involved if you choose to have a campfire. Be extremely careful, making sure your fire is always attended by a responsible adult and that it is completely drowned when you go to bed or leave the site. Call the local ranger station before your trip to verify current regulations. There's a likelihood that rules might change and a campfire violation can cost up to $5,000 and result in jail time.
If your fire gets out of control, you could be liable for the cost of suppression and damage. Though there are still a few places where fires are permitted outside of established campgrounds, I don't know if I'd take on the risk and responsibility in such a dry year. With at least two more months of fire season ahead of us, I will be extremely thankful if we don't have any additional fires in a year that has already seen some very large ones.
Labor Day getaways
If you're looking for last-minute ideas for a Labor Day Weekend getaway, here are some things to consider:
Large areas of the Sierra are smoky with several major fires burning. The further south you go, the more likely you are to avoid the smoke. Inyo National Forest (the eastern edge of the Sierra) is also a good bet.
Smoke can be unpredictable and you might find that areas close to fires are surprisingly clear depending on wind. Last weekend Yosemite Valley was largely unaffected by the raging inferno just a few miles to the north. If you plan to go somewhere near a current fire, check conditions by calling the closest ranger station to the place you hope to go Friday. You can also check Sierra webcams at: www.sierranevadacams.com/
The coast is unaffected by the smoke and makes an appealing destination, though campsites and motel rooms are hard to come by on busy weekends. Campfires are prohibited in the Los Padres National Forest, even if you are staying in a campground.
First-come, first-serve campsites can disappoint on popular weekends, especially if you don't get an early start. To make sure you don't end up driving around without finding a site, look for reservations at www.reserveamerica.com as soon as possible. A typical search will show results for the specific destination you enter, but also for hundreds of other campgrounds within about 200 miles.
In writing this column I did a quick search and found several nice sites still available within a reasonable driving distance for the three-day weekend despite the fact that most campgrounds are already booked. Always verify the location before booking some of the remaining sites are at low elevations in the foothills where you'll be hot unless you plan to bring a boat or swim all day.
Adam Blauert is a correspondent for the Sun-Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org