08-13-2007, 12:21 AM
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Fire danger shuts down part of Tahoe National Forest
By Laura Brown, firstname.lastname@example.org
» More from Laura Brown
12:01 a.m. PT Aug 9, 2007
The largest volunteer four-wheel-drive event in the country was closed down because of extreme wildfire danger in the Sierra and more restrictions could be on the way, foresters said this week.
Moisture in forest vegetation on the Tahoe National Forest is at a 30-year low, triggering fire personnel to question the safety of the 41st annual Sierra Trek. The event attracts 1,500 visitors with Jeeps and sport utility vehicles to the Sierra backcountry each year. The risk of illegal campfires and a lack of roads to accommodate fire engines caused the closure, said Joe Chavez, public service officer for the Yuba Ranger District and head of the trails program for the forest.
Heavier restrictions, such as more road closures and a ban on campstoves, could be set if dry conditions worsen, more serious wildfires ignite in the state and fire suppression resources get stretched thin, said Gary Fildes, forest fuels management officer.
The closure comes in the wake of the Angora Fire in Lake Tahoe where more than 200 homes burned and another in neighboring Plumas National Forest where fire ignited by lightning strikes consumed thousands of acres of forest land.
"It's that kind of rapid devastating fire we're concerned about," Chavez said.
In July, extreme fire danger closed 500 miles of Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) trails used by dirt bikes and All-Terrain Vehicles (ATV's) throughout the Tahoe National Forest.
"It's very uncommon. We try not to shut people out," Chavez said.
An additional 1,000 miles of undesignated historic mining trails and old logging roads currently being analyzed in a route designation process are also closed, Chavez said.
A remaining 2,800 miles of forest service system roads are open for use, said Ann Westling, spokesperson for the Tahoe National Forest. The roads are usually marked with numbers and are well-maintained.
A stage two fire restriction is in place for the national forest, limiting campfires to developed campgrounds with easy fire engine access, water and camp hosts. Backpackers are required to obtain a permit to use a campstove in the backcountry.
The Sierra Trek is a family-style event with an elaborate base camp set up in Meadow Lake, the site of a former mining town known as Summit City. The camp features live music, hot showers, three meals a day, fishing, swimming and children's activities.
The terrain and five "winch hills" of Fordyce Creek Trail is considered more technical then the famed Rubicon, in El Dorado National Forest where jeepers pilgrimage each year, said Jack Raudy, publicity chairman for the event hosted by the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs.
PG&E issues permits to lower the waterflow of Fordyce Creek to allow for the passage of 125 "rigs," Raudy said.
"This was our biggest money maker for the year," Raudy said. He estimates the organization lost $55,000 by the cancellation. The group is disappointed but understands and may organize a smaller event sometime this fall, Raudy said.
Signs posted throughout the forest have not deterred people from riding on back trails and burning campfires in high wildfire hazard areas, Chavez said. Fines of up to $350 for illegal campfires and $150 for illegal OHV riding are being enforced, Chavez said.
"You never know when you might run into one of us," said Chavez.
For more information on fire restrictions and maps of closed trails visit http://www.fs. fed.us/r5/tahoe/
To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4231.
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