Monday, September 9, 2013

"Fire Restrictions Are There For A Reason"

At the risk of suggesting a topical shift from writing to backpacking in the Sierra Nevada, my first entry for quite a while is a reflection on fire in the wilderness. But first a photo from a short backpacking trip in the Sierra in July of this year:

To snap the pic required a five-mile hike in to Showers Lake (photo) from near Woods Lake along highway 89, plus a brief wait after eating dinner in camp for the sunset. Needless to say, an i-Phone photo, although pretty spectacular, doesn't come close to a first-hand look. In a totally different context, Eric Sevaried once wrote of the northern Canadian wilderness in his book Canoeing With The Cree, "Such sights as this are reserved for those who will suffer to behold them."

Here's another shot looking easterly toward Lake Tahoe from a rock perch at the edge of the camping area. Arriving early enough in the day, a camper might be lucky to snag this campsite and awake to see the birth of the dawn over Lake Tahoe.

So, why these photos now? And what is the connection to the topic of fire in the wilderness? Anyone in central, eastern and northern California and parts of Nevada have been witness to the effects of the Rim Fire burning near and in Yosemite National Park in recent weeks. The fire was reportedly started by someone who disregarded fire restrictions which were (and still are) in place to reduce the possibility of just such an event. As a result, 400 square miles of wilderness area have been scorched, including several homes in the path. The livelihoods of thousands of people in the surrounding communities and towns have also been jeopardized by the drop in the number of visitors and the trade they bring.

Clearly, natural causes could have started the Rim Fire just as easily. Lightning strikes have destroyed thousands of square miles of wilderness over the years and will continue to do so. Yet, the obvious lesson is nature needs no help from people when it comes to starting fires.

Little can be done to recoup the losses of those affected by any wilderness fire. Nor can we soothe their disappointment about the carelessness of those who would disregard prudent restrictions on the many in favor of the momentary enjoyment by the few. Masking her frustration last week, one nearby resident affected by the fire summed up the feelings of many when she simply said, "Fire restrictions are there for a reason." The message doesn't get much clearer than that.

On a another trip to Lake Tahoe last weekend, I was part of the support group for the Emigrant Trails Bike Trek (no, I wasn't among the riders). Approaching Lake Tahoe on Highway 50, I was looking forward to the panoramic view of the deep blue lake nestled among the surrounding peaks. However, as I rounded the last of the tight curves which open up to the spectacular lake views, the lake was totally masked by the thick haze of drifting smoke from the Rim Fire.

Personally, I like a good campfire as much as the next person. And I can vouch for the same sentiment among the Boy Scouts in our Scout Troop and other Troops who frequently camp in California's wilderness areas. After all, campfires are an expected part of the camping experience. Yet when conditions warn against fire, there is no debate. Like the lady said, those fire restrictions are there for a reason.