May 27, 2009

450 acres burn near historic gold mine

Hi-Desert Star

The Lost Horse Fire burns in Joshua Tree National Park Sunday evening. Ignited by an unknown cause Sunday afternoon, the flames burned through Monday and were declared contained at 8 a.m. Tuesday. (Preston Drake-Hillyard photo)

JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK — Fire burned about 450 acres over two days near Lost Horse Mine here before it was fully contained at 8 a.m. Tuesday, park officials said. “There are still a few firefighters out there — crews checking for hot spots,” Ranger Pam Tripp said Tuesday afternoon.

Twelve visitors who were hiking near the flames were evacuated by helicopter Sunday. “They got caught and weren’t able to hike out themselves,” park Chief of Interpretation Joe Zarki said.

No one was hurt in the fire, and the hikers who were evacuated were not in immediate danger, Zarki added.

Thanks to the efforts of firefighters and support staff, park Superintendent Curt Sauer said, the historic Lost Horse Mine and stamp mill escaped the blaze unscathed.

“The timely and professional response of fire crews to the Lost Horse Fire minimized effects of the fire to native vegetation and to irreplaceable historic resources,” Sauer said.

“Given that no firefighter or park visitor was hurt in the process, that’s about as good of an outcome as we can expect.”

Zarki said the Lost Horse Fire ignited shortly before 4 p.m. Sunday and was spotted by hikers. Park officials immediately began mobilizing firefighting resources when they received word of the blaze at 4:30 p.m.

The fire burned Joshua trees, piƱon pines, junipers and scrub brush in a remote area of rugged hills between Geology Tour Road and Keys View Road.

Personnel and equipment from the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, CalFire, the U.S. Forest Service and San Bernardino County Fire were called in and an ambulance from Morongo Basin Ambulance was kept on hand.

Aircraft dropped water on the flames Sunday evening and resumed the job Monday morning.

Working through Sunday night, firefighters took advantage of cool evening temperatures and light winds to begin establishing a line around the flames, Zarki reported.

Ten fire trucks and one hand crew worked the fire on the ground, while two spotter aircraft and one helicopter provided air support.

Today, a single helicopter and hand crews will be on mop-up duty.

The Cap Rock Nature Trail and its parking area were used as the incident command center.

Cap Rock and the scenic drive to Keys View have reopened, but the Lost Horse Mine Road and trailhead and the Oyster Bar and Hall of Horrors parking areas remained closed Tuesday.

All other park areas and facilities remained open to visitors throughout the fire.

The cause of the blaze remains under investigation.

Park officials urge visitors to build fires only in provided fire grills and never leave a campfire unattended.