Forest Fires

Backpacking and camping basics and other general trip planning discussion for the uninitiated. Use this forum to learn where to look for the information you need, and to ask questions, related to the beginner basics of backpacking and camping, including technique and best practices.
Post Reply
User avatar
jgaffney
Topix Acquainted
Posts: 25
Joined: Sun Dec 09, 2012 10:12 pm
Experience: Level 3 Backpacker
Location: Rohnert Park, CA

Forest Fires

Post by jgaffney » Fri Jul 27, 2018 9:42 pm

With the spread of fires in the central Sierras, especially the Fergusen Fire just west of Yosemite, my backpacking season has been blown out again. Maybe in September, I'll still be able to go out from Tuolumne Meadows....if the highway is open.

But, this got me to wondering. If I'm 15-20 miles away from the trailhead, how would Cal Fire warn me if I needed to evacuate? Would they fly helicopters over the area with loundspeakers blaring, "Get out now!"? Has anyone had this experience?

User avatar
mrphil
Topix Regular
Posts: 208
Joined: Sat Jun 10, 2017 12:04 pm
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

Re: Forest Fires

Post by mrphil » Fri Jul 27, 2018 10:05 pm

From my experience during a fire a few years ago up by Smith Peak in Yosemite, when we were out above Pate Valley, they flew a helicopter over to spot for hikers and then sent rangers out to intercept us well in advance of any need for imminent evacuation. They closed trails and made us head in the opposite direction. I would imagine that they would air lift you out if you were in immediate danger and they felt you were going to have problems, which just goes to show that it's always good to let people know where you're going. Defending life and property are always the first considerations.

User avatar
xcountry rider
Topix Novice
Posts: 13
Joined: Sat Jul 23, 2016 4:58 pm
Experience: Level 3 Backpacker

Re: Forest Fires

Post by xcountry rider » Thu Aug 02, 2018 11:21 pm

jgaffney, I can tell you what my experience was with wildfire in Yosemite in September of 2014. My wife and I were doing about a 50 mile loop from Glacier Point rd (Mono mdw), Illouette Creek, Red Peak Pass, Washburn Lake, Little Yosemite Valley back to the car was our planned route. We usually do a backpacking trip in sept around our anniversary.

Our second to last night we camped at Washburn Lake. Last night we were going to stay in LYV and climb Half Dome. When we got to Merced Lake I noticed smoke off in the distance to the West. I stopped in the High Sierra Camp to inquire about to see if they new of any active or new fires. The guy in charge said not to worry that is was a fire that had been burning for weeks near Mariposa. I thought it looked a lot closer but ok. We continued to hike. We went about 1- 1.5 miles past the trail junction at Echo Valley and the Smoke clouds just started exploding! We new right then we were in real trouble and we were close to a wildfire! The problem was we did not know where the fire was. We felt relatively safe at that particular location, we were surrounded by granite and close to a creek so we pulled out our map and came up with a plan. As we did that a helicopter flew over us and hovered for about a minute. It was very low maybe 50' above us. We were waving our arms frantically. It did not give us any instructions or indications it would come back for us. We waited there for maybe another 5 minutes as the smoke got worse and worse. It seemed like an hour, ok we knew we couldn't stay there. We consulted the map. There is a back country ranger station in LYV. We decided to head there and see if the ranger is there. We started hiking there as fast as we could. As soon as we got to any tree section we started running as fast as we could. We then ran into a couple we had met earlier in the day. They were headed the opposite direction about as fast as we were going. The husband said you are going the wrong way. "You are going towards the fire!" They also had a line of sight radio. Turns out he was a backpacking guide, taking a few days off. We immediately asked if we could hike with them. They said sure.

What a relief to be with another couple that seemed to know what was going on. At least they knew where the fire was. So we started backtracking and fast towards Echo Valley. I asked our new best friends where we were headed. He said Merced Lake high sierra camp. Then a couple minutes later he got word they were being evacuated. Plan B Sunrise high sierra camp. Ok a lot further but our lives kinda depend on it. We were hiking and running. This was going on for a while then his wife starts falling behind, turns out she is having some knee issues. Not good. It's ok we have been making good time. I have even taken some pictures of the smoke and fire. My wife is getting pissed because I keep stopping for pictures. It starts raining down ash on us. The mood of our group is not that great. Seems like we have been hiking a long time. We are all looking forward to rest and maybe even a hot meal at the high sierra camp. My wife and I arrive first. There is a note on the door that they have been evacuated to Tuolumne Meadows. Are you kidding me!!! is what I'm thinking. Then our guiding friend shows up and has a mini melt down. He gathers himself and tries his radio. No luck. So he uses the phone in the kitchen to call someone in the valley (I think some firefighter not too sure). Basically they said get out of there as soon you can. We were all tired and hungry at that point and it was dark. So we kept hiking towards Tenaya Lake over sunrise pass with headlamps. It was surreal. It was still raining down ash but it also started raining and it was very smokey. At one time during the night hike I wished my wife happy anniversary, she was not amused.

Turns out our new best friends had their car parked at Tenaya Lake. They Lived in Yosemite Valley. They offered us a ride to the valley. They suggested we camp in the Backpacker's camp. My wife was not too happy with camping in the muck after our ordeal. She was ready for a shower and a real bed. It was about Midnight when we reached their car. Would probably be after 1am by the time we reach the valley. The husband was nice enough to drive us all the way back to our car up at Mono mdw on Glacier point road. Then we stayed at Tenaya Lodge. We arrived there about 3am.

So the moral of the story is the Park Service didn't save us. We were lucky enough to run into a great couple that knew what was going on and they helped us get out. They were backpacking on their time off. We self evacuated over 26 miles that day when we were planning on an eight mile day. The park service also reported to the media that everyone in the back country had been evacuated safely or something to that effect. They would have had no idea if we had got cut off by smoke of wild fire and had to go cross country and died. We were miles off our planned route. They did not have our license plate number on our wilderness permit or even our description of our car. We left a plan with my wife's parents but did not check in with them until a day late. They thought we were part of the group that got evacuated off of Half Dome by helicopter. They just assumed we were safe. It was because the this report to the media they thought we were safe. It would have taken another day before they would have reported us missing. We have since changed out itinerary and safety plan. After this event and comparing Seki and Yosemite safety protocols there are some differences. Seki gets more info on wilderness permits for color of tent backpack etc. They also get license plate number. Yosemite does none of this. So it is up individual to take responsibility for your own safety. Which I am totally ok with. There are a lot of inherent dangers with back country travel. Maybe Yosemite has changed things. I haven't been there since 2014

User avatar
rightstar76
Topix Expert
Posts: 409
Joined: Mon Jun 26, 2006 3:22 pm
Experience: N/A

Re: Forest Fires

Post by rightstar76 » Fri Aug 03, 2018 3:26 am

xcountry rider wrote:
So it is up individual to take responsibility for your own safety. Which I am totally ok with. There are a lot of inherent dangers with back country travel.
How true! I am glad all of you got out safely. It must have been infuriating when the helicopter was right above you and then flew away.

User avatar
mrphil
Topix Regular
Posts: 208
Joined: Sat Jun 10, 2017 12:04 pm
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

Re: Forest Fires

Post by mrphil » Fri Aug 03, 2018 6:27 am

xcountry rider wrote:My wife is getting pissed because I keep stopping for pictures.
That's awesome!

User avatar
xcountry rider
Topix Novice
Posts: 13
Joined: Sat Jul 23, 2016 4:58 pm
Experience: Level 3 Backpacker

Re: Forest Fires

Post by xcountry rider » Fri Aug 03, 2018 7:17 am

rightstar76 wrote:xcountry rider wrote:
So it is up individual to take responsibility for your own safety. Which I am totally ok with. There are a lot of inherent dangers with back country travel.
How true! I am glad all of you got out safely. It must have been infuriating when the helicopter was right above you and then flew away.

It was infuriating, confusing and scary.We were not sure what to do after it was gone. We were expecting instructions or something...

User avatar
Teresa Gergen
Topix Acquainted
Posts: 76
Joined: Thu Jan 20, 2011 12:47 pm
Experience: N/A
Location: Boulder, CO

Re: Forest Fires

Post by Teresa Gergen » Fri Aug 03, 2018 9:52 am

Is there a Dispatch textable phone number for Seki and Inyo where you could send an InReach custom message if you thought you were this close to a fire and needed an evacuation?

User avatar
maverick
Forums Moderator
Forums Moderator
Posts: 10131
Joined: Thu Apr 06, 2006 5:54 pm
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

Re: Forest Fires

Post by maverick » Fri Aug 03, 2018 10:08 am

911 works.
Professional Sierra Landscape Photographer

I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, an HST member: http://reconn.org

User avatar
rlown
Topix Docent
Posts: 6774
Joined: Thu Oct 25, 2007 5:00 pm
Experience: Level 4 Explorer
Location: Petaluma, CA

Re: Forest Fires

Post by rlown » Fri Aug 03, 2018 10:21 am

on InReach, just press the SOS button. It will become an interactive text fest.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest