Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lawler Fire was sparked by a controlled burn

 Cal Fire officials are reviewing procedures statewide after investigators determined that a 15-acre fire in the San Jacinto Mountains this year was sparked by a controlled burn.

In mid-December, crews had been burning piles of brush and cutting debris north of Idyllwild/Pine Cove, Cal Fire spokeswoman Cheri Patterson said in a written statement. The purpose was to create a defensible space around the communities.

The Lawler Fire started three weeks later. The morning of Jan. 8, 25-mph winds kicked up a deep-seated in a pile of cleared brush, the investigation found.

Fanned by Santa Ana winds and unseasonably warm temperatures, the flames spread through the San Bernardino National Forest off Highway 243 and Black Mountain Road, between Idyllwild and Banning.

No structures were threatened. More than 200 firefighters contained the blaze within two days

"The hazard reduction pile burn had last been conducted by CAL FIRE three weeks earlier on December 19, 2011," their statement said.

The Lawler Fire was stoked by an unseasonable, dry, winter wind event in the project area known as Lawler Lodge, off Highway 243 and below Black Mountain, north of the community of Pine Cove, according to Cal Fire.

"A deep seated ember from the burn pile was fanned due to the 25 mph Santa Ana winds," the Cal Fire statement said. "The response to the Lawler Fire included 215 firefighters from CAL FIRE/Riverside County Fire and the US Forest Service.

"Aggressive efforts by firefighters and the defensible space provided by the project's brush clearance aided firefighters in safely containing the fire to 15 acres during this significant winter wind event," the Cal Fire statement said.

The Lawler Fire was first reported about 3 a.m. Jan. 8 in the Dark Canyon drainage near Highway 243. More than 200 firefighters and other personnel were assigned at its height, and it was declared 100 percent contained on Jan. 10, Kate Kramer of the U.S. Forest Service said in January.

Two firefighters sustained minor injuries on the first day of the fire and they were both taken to a hospital for treatment, Kramer said.


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