Mammoth Lakes Fire Protection District, Inyo National Forest try to keep fire hazard under control in the Lakes Basin
The Mammoth Lakes Fire Protection District, United States Forest Service, and Mammoth Lakes Fire Safe Council collaborating on a fuels reduction project in the Mammoth Lakes Basin, in hopes of preventing a catastrophic wildfire from threatening homes in Old Mammoth and trapping visitors in the Lakes Basin.
Mammoth Lakes Fire Marshall Thom Heller said last week that a crown fire in the Lakes Basin would threaten homes and lives in the Town of Mammoth Lakes. “Right now, if we could stop a fire in its infancy, we could put it out. If it got ahead of us, we would be hard-pressed to manage it within such a small area,” said Heller last week. Heller said that, under the existing conditions, if a fire were to occur in the Mammoth Lakes Basin, it is likely that it would result in a complete burn of the forest, and in total tree mortality. Such an event would compromise the Town’s water supply.
Heller said that a large-scale evacuation of the Lakes Basin would be “difficult at best.” There are only two ways in and out of the area, one of which is a single lane road that leads to Old Mammoth. “There is a natural bottleneck at Twin Lakes,” said Heller, who said that if a fire-related incident were to occur at that site, people could be trapped in the Lakes Basin.
Deb Schweizer, Public Affairs Officer for the Inyo National Forest said that, “in the fire exclusion years, roughly eight natural fire cycles were missed in the mixed conifer forest. That means there is eight times the amount of dead vegetation that has accumulated that can feed a fire.”
At a public meeting regarding the project on Tuesday, September 19, Mayor John Wentworth asked if, in the event a private contractor is hired to carry out the fuels removal portion of the project, the Inyo National Forest (INF) would monitor the consultant’s work diligently. Wentworth cited the last fuels removal project carried out in the Lakes Basin, in the vicinity of Panorama Dome. Wentworth said he recalled that the project was delayed by two years, and that the contractor used vehicles and equipment that destroyed existing trails. “They left the area kind of a mess… At the end of the day, the Forest Service said, ‘Ok, we’re done here,” said Wentworth, who says evidence of the wreckage is still present.