By Douglas W. Motley
Two illegal campfires in forested areas near Crestline briefly posed a major threat to the Crestline community in the past week. The first blaze, which was reported at 1:46 p.m. on Wednesday, July 31, charred about one acre of thick brush and dense timber in a remote area southeast of Valley of Enchantment.
Dubbed the Pine Fire by arriving firefighters, the blaze, which was, at first, spreading at a moderate rate of speed in a remote area that was difficult for ground crews to access, elicited an immediate aerial attack by two U.S. Forest Service airtankers and several water-dropping helicopters.
According to scanner reports, all aircraft, with the exception of one helicopter from the Heaps Peak Helitack Base, were canceled at 2:50 p.m., after ground crews successfully established a hose-lay around the perimeter of the blaze.
Following a strenuous one-mile, uphill hike – at first along a dirt road that began near Redwood Way and Azalea in Valley of Enchantment, then through several hundred yards of thick brush and up a steep hillside – The Alpine Mountaineer arrived on scene shortly after 2:30 P.M., just in time to witness Forest Service, Cal Fire and County Fire ground crews mopping up the remaining flames and smoldering embers of this potentially devastating fire.
Several hundred feet from the main blaze, sheriff’s arson investigators were seen scouring the area surrounding a small white tent, searching for evidence and clues that might reveal the fire’s cause.
Asked whether the incident was related to a homeless encampment – of which several have been reported in the same general area in recent years – a captain at Cal Fire’s Incident Command Center told The Alpine Mountaineer that the incident was still under investigation. He said about 50 firefighting personnel were on hand. About a half-dozen Forest Service, Cal Fire and County Fire brush engines were seen nearby. An unidentified firefighter noted that a small marijuana grow was found near the camping site. Ground crews were reportedly released from the incident at 4:34 p.m.
A second campfire incident was reported just before 7 p.m. on Sunday, August 4, when a father and son hiking on a dirt road near the intersection of North Road and Arosa Drive north of Crestline discovered the remains of a smoldering campfire, with smoke emanating from a four-foot-diameter hole in the ground. The pair, who were reportedly out for a walk with their dog, attempted to cover the smoldering embers with dirt and bottled water, apparently to no avail.
Arriving firefighters subsequently extinguished the hotspot, which was determined to be the remains of a large, recently burning campfire. A firefighter at the scene said that, if the smoldering embers hadn’t been extinguished, the embers could have ignited nearby brush, resulting in a disastrous wildfire.