Message from Sequoia National Forest – Forest Supervisor

The week of August 15, California experienced a historic lightning siege with a reported 11,000 lightning strikes over 72-hours, igniting more than 650 wildfires. Two of the lightning-caused fires, the Castle and Shotgun fires (Sequoia (SQF) Complex), were reported by Bald Mountain Lookout Wednesday, August 19, at approximately 7 am. Six 20-person hand crews hiked into the Golden Trout Wilderness to attack the Castle Fire, struggling against extreme fire behavior and poor visibility due to smoke.

Fire crews and air attack reported erratic behavior with wind-driven fire runs burning past the Little Kern River. Although thousands of gallons of water and retardant were used to stop the fire’s progression, within a few days the fire spread to more than 3,000 acres within the Golden Trout Wilderness. Since day 1, the fire has been in full suppression mode, using all available resources.

As concerns mounted over the fire’s behavior, Forest officials began requesting voluntary evacuations for mountain communities. Forest personnel reached out to forty permit holders with backcountry trips planned into the fire area. They implemented search and rescue efforts for hikers reported within the vicinity of the Castle Fire. On August 22, helicopter-523, based at the Forest Service Helibase in Kernville, airlifted five hikers out of the wilderness to safety. 

Due to the incident’s complexity, we have had several teams and firefighters from throughout the United States and Mexico fight the blaze in our forest and mountain communities.

  • •  August 23, only 4-days after the fire was discovered, California Interagency Incident Management Team 12, a Type 2 team, took command of the incident.
  • •  September 3, command of the incident was transferred to the Northern Rockies Incident Management Team 1, a Type 1 team.
  • •  September 16, the complex was divided into two zones; East and West. CAL FIRE Incident Management Team 6 assumed command of the West Zone, and the Northern Rockies IMT maintained command of the East zone.
  • •  September 23, California Interagency Incident Management Team 2 took command of the East zone.
  • •  October 6, California Incident Management Team 13 assumed command.

The Eastern Area Gold Incident Management Team assumed command of the SQF Complex on October 22.

Over the course of the fires, the United States Forest Service, National Park Service, CALFIRE, BLM, BIA and Tule River Reservation came together under unified command with the Incident Management Teams to fight the wildfire, the largest in Tulare County history.

Many cherished mountain communities and forest sites were within the fire’s path. Ponderosa, Pyles Boys Camp, Redwood Drive, Alpine Village, Sequoia Crest, and Doyle Springs all experienced varying amounts of damage and loss of homes. According to firefighters’ reports, winds blew the fire in a northwestern direction at an alarming rate that had not been seen in 10 years.

As you know, the fire went through a number of sequoia groves. Although the sequoias are fire-adapted, I developed a team of Forest Service personnel and key stakeholders to assess the impacts to the sequoia groves from the fire, compare the pre- and post-fire conditions, and develop short- and long-term restoration needs.

Although crews worked to stop the fire from spreading, secured perimeters, and wrapped historical structures, our losses were many. Among those are Jordan Peak Lookout and communications site, Grey Meadow Cabin, Mountain Home Guard Station, Clicks Creek Trailhead, at least one trail bridge on the Freeman Creek Trail, the Golden Trout Pack Station, and the CSET (Stars) Camp on the North road.

As fire suppression activities within the forest winddown, fire suppression repair activities are just beginning, and residents are returning. A Forest closure area was established due to multiple hazards and crews working in the area. Over the next several weeks, staff and contractors will be mitigating safety concerns to our communities.

We are permitting some individuals access to their private lands, cabins and permitted operations on National Forest System land.  Requests are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.  We have been granting access if there is no active fire in the area; accessing the area will not interfere with any fire operations, and the requested area is not located within a mandatory evacuation zone.  District Rangers Eric LaPrice and Al Watson will continue to be the Points of Contact for approving additional names to the master list.

Please remain patient with the Forest closure as it continues to be important for both firefighter and public safety. While I do not have a projected date for modification of the closure area outside of the fire perimeter, it is being evaluated daily. However, the fire caused significant damage to our Forest infrastructure that will need to be addressed before reopening to the public. We request your patience as this may take a substantial amount of time. I appreciate your help in communicating with other community members about the residual fire hazards and the concern for firefighter and public safety.

What are the safety concerns? The fire burned extremely hot in many areas causing fallen or leaning trees and branches. There is potential for windy conditions, high temperatures, and low relative humidity in the coming days, resulting in fire flare-ups. We are dealing with other potential safety hazards, including heavy equipment traffic on narrow roads, hazard trees resulting from fire damage, chippers, and other heavy equipment sending debris onto roadways.  In addition to these hazards, there are numerous areas where the fire is still smoldering, resulting in ash pits and stump holes that are likely to continue burning into the winter months. While there is little chance for rain in the near forecast, we monitor the potential for storm activity, increasing our chances of mudslides, flash floods, and additional hazards along the roadways.

A Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team arrived in October, consisting of various resource specialists from the local forest and other areas. The team evaluated the burned area to determine where there is a high risk of erosion or other damage to resources that may occur within the next few months and into the next year. They also began conducting emergency stabilization activities, where necessary, throughout the burned area. Some of the activities are stabilizing roads and trails; placing vegetation, seeds, or other material on the severely burned slopes to prevent erosion; and proposing treatments to prevent spread of known invasive species in the burned area. These activities can take days, weeks, or months to complete. Some areas may be monitored for up to three years, where there is a risk of fire-related damage.

It was inspiring to see local people and organizations working together to provide the infrastructure and support that allowed thousands of firefighters to suppress the largest wildfire in the history of the Sequoia National Forest and Tulare County.

The Forest Service is grateful for the consistent cooperation that occurred between the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, Tulare County Fire Department, Tulare County, Tulare County Office of Emergency Services, Tulare County Roads, Tulare Country Health and Human Services Agency, Tulare County Health Departments, Tule River Reservation, Caltrans, Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison, Red Cross, local emergency responders, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management,  Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park employees, US Fish and Wildlife Service, CALFIRE, California Highway Patrol, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, California Conservation Corps, California Office of Emergency Services, AT&T, Verizon, California Department of Transportation, California Air National Guard, and California National Guard, CONAFOR crew, National Forestry Commission of Mexico, concessionaires, private landowners, and many others.

Working together allowed us to develop, coordinate, and execute successful plans. I look forward to our continued cooperation as we rehabilitate our mountain communities, roads, trails, and facilities so the Sequoia National Forest and Giant Sequoia National Monument can once again be the destination for thousands of Forest visitors.

To the Sequoia National Forest employees thank you for your dedication and self-sacrifice during this historic fire. I am grateful to all of you for your hard work, perseverance, great attitudes, and passion for protecting and managing our public lands.

Sincerely,

Teresa Benson

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Latest Update on SQF Complex

Incident Information:
Start / Report Date: 8/19/20 Cause: Lightning
Resources:
Hand Crews: 13 Dozers: 3
Current Situation:
Size: 168,973 acres Location: 25 miles N of Kernville, CA
Helicopters: 12 Water Tenders: 14
Containment: 75 % Injuries: 17
Structures Destroyed: 228
Engines: 23
Total Personnel: 744

The lightning-caused Castle and Shotgun Fires were discovered on August 19, 2020, and later managed as one incident named the SQF Complex. The Castle Fire burned on portions of the Sequoia National Forest and Giant Sequoia National Monument (129,000 acres), Inyo National Forest (12,290 acres), Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (16,289 acres), lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (728 acres), State (4037 acres), County, and private lands and threatened the Tule River Indian Reservation. On October 6, 2020 the Shotgun Fire was fully contained and remains at 841 acres.

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SQF Complex – Numbers Update for 10/3

Smoke in the Kaweah Drainage – Sequoia National Park

Here are some updated numbers for those interested. The containment date is now estimated to be November 1!

Total Personnel1,026
Size154,983 Acres
Percent of Perimeter Contained60%
Estimated Containment DateSunday November 01st, 2020 approx. 12:00 AM
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SQF Complex – Just the Numbers

Current Size = 151,436 acres

Containment = 61%

Personnel = 1,440

The Sequoia National Forest is still closed to the public at this time, which includes the Golden Trout Wilderness. More information regarding the fire can be read on the official InciWeb site.

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SQF Complex – Current Fire Map

9/28 Fire Map – Source InciWeb

The SQF Complex is about half way contained. The image above can be tapped/clicked on to further enlarge the map. Black line around the edges mean the fire is contained at that point. The red line means there is still open fire and can continue to spread.

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SQF Complex – Fire Progression Map

Click image above to increase size – Source InciWeb
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SQF Complex Facts and Public Virtual Meetings

Source: Sequoia National Forest email

The Castle Fire is 134,970 acres and the Shotgun Fire is 832 acres for a total of 135,802 acres and 14% containment.

Reminders –

A community meeting will be held at 4 PM on Sunday, September 20, for both zones of the Sequoia Complex. The meeting will be held via Facebook Live on the Sequoia National Forest’s Facebook page. Questions may be submitted in advance to the East Zone (sqfcomplex2020@gmail.com) and to the West Zone (westcastlezone@gmail.com).

Press Conference will be held at the Porterville Fairgrounds, September 20 at 3 PM. The Press Conference will be live streamed via Facebook @CALFIRETUUhttps://www.facebook.com/calfiretuu and shared on the Sequoia National Facebook page ahttps://www.facebook.com/SequoiaNF/

Please ensure the use of a facial covering for media members attending. All County COVID-19 guidelines will be adhered to. 

The Sequoia (#SQFComplex) Complex is under the Unified Command between the United States Forest Service, Sequoia National Park, Northern Rockies Incident Management Team 1, and CAL FIRE Team 6. The Northern Rockies Team 1 is in command of the East Castle Zone and CAL FIRE Team 6 is in command of the West Castle Zone on the SQF Complex. 

Firefighter and public safety are the number one priority as we continue to battle this blaze. Although the fire perimeter is divided into a West Zone and an East Zone we come together as ONE Team to share resources and implement strategies to protect life safety and values at risk.

East Castle Zone Information Line: (559) 697-51488 AM-8 PM

East Castle Zone Website: inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/7048/

East Castle Zone Email: sqfcomplex2020@gmail.com

Website: inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/7048/

Facebook: www.facebook.com/SequoiaNF     www.facebook.com/inyonf

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/countyoftulare  

Twitter: @sequoiaforest and @Inyo_NF

Evacuation Info: www.alerttc.com

West Castle Zone Information Line: (916) 618-3195

West Castle Zone Media Line: (559) 635-8206

West Castle Zone Website: www.fire.ca.gov/current_incidents

West Castle Zone Email Updates (sign up): https://tinyurl.com/SQFComplexWest

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SQF Complex – East Zone Update

Photo from InciWeb

Only reports of the East Zone of the SQF Complex will continue on GTW. The West Zone does not deal with a majority of the wilderness. If you want to get updates, please check out this link. Other quick facts are below.

Source: InciWeb

Incident Statistics

Location: 25 miles N of Kernville, CA 

Date of origin: 8/19/20   

Cause: Lightning 

Size: 114,320 acres          

Containment: 12% 

Cost: $28.6 million           

Injuries: 14 

Civilians evacuated: 3,183 

Structures threatened: 1,683 

Structures destroyed: 105 

Resources

Hand Crews: 14 

Engines: 70 

Water-tenders: 19           

Dozers: 11 

Helicopters: 23  

Personnel: 1001

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SQF Complex Moves West

Fire activity along 190 near intersection with 216, 1 mile east of Camp Nelson

Source: InciWeb


A virtual community meeting will be held at 6 PM on September 13, 2020. The meeting will be broadcast via Facebook Live at www.facebook.com/SequoiaNF.

Four structures burned in the Golden Trout Pack Station area during Saturday’s fire activity.  This will be reflected in tomorrow’s Incident Statistics as they are updated through official channels. At the time of this update, no additional structures have burned during the active burning overnight and this morning. 

The Northern Rockies Incident Management Team 1 has been extended and will continue to manage the Sequoia Complex through September 22. 

Sequoia (#SQF) Complex: Acreages are 73,666 acres for the Castle Fire and 638 acres for Shotgun fire, for a total of 74,304 acres. 

Castle Fire: Active fire behavior began early onSaturday as crews reported thefire was pushing up the ridge on the northwest corner.  Ridge level winds from the east pushed the fire towards the west all day, bumping the fireline and causing spot fires in the Alder Creek drainage outside of containment lines. Firing actions took place off of containment lines in Freeman Creek Grove and Jordan Peak Road to slow fire progression. Structural engines supported firing operations with water throughout the day and overnight to protect values at risk. 

“I could not be prouder of the work that our crews have put in on this western flank. This country is steep and difficult and taking it one careful piece at a time is going to give us the best chance at protecting local values,” said Shawn Borgen, Operations Trainee. 

The fire continues to hold within the southern containment lines, smoke will continue to be monitored. Further southeast, crews continue to make good progress constructing direct handline on the point of the fire that pushed out towards Beach Meadows. North of the finger, between Little Horse Meadows and Osa Meadows, fuels are not conducive to carrying fire. This area will continue to be monitored by air. Structural assessment and preparation continue in Long Canyon, Casa Vieja, and Monache Meadows. Within Sequoia National Park, a ten-person fire module will continue work prepping the Kern Canyon Ranger Station and affiliated buildings. This work is anticipated to continue through the next couple of operational shifts. 

The fire moved actively west and southwest through the night. Firefighters continue to implement structure protection actions to protect values at risk.  Firefighter and public safety is the number one priority in efforts to suppress the fire and actions will be adjusted as needed to maintain life safety. Reconnaissance flights are being flown this morning to assess where the fire is currently established. Extreme fire weather is forecast for Sunday, and the fire continues to actively burn. 

Ground resources have been supported by aerial resources and to date on the Castle Fire a total of 1.2 million gallons of water and 560,000 gallons of retardant have been dropped. Air resources have also transported a total of 65,000 pounds of cargo. 

Shotgun Fire:  Fire intensity has increased with east winds; the fire is now 638 acres.   

Weather: Mainly clear skies will be over the fire area on Sunday with temperatures ranging from the mid-70s in upper elevations and in the lower 90s in lower elevations. Relative humidity levels will fall into the lower teens and upper single digits once again today. 

Smoke: Smoke may begin to shade the fire again starting Monday, and especially on Tuesday as the upper flow becomes more southwesterly to westerly. For current air quality, visit:https://fire.airnow.gov/

Evacuations and Closures: 

  • Evacuation Orders from the Tulare County Sheriff are in effect for the following communities: Doyle Springs (9/12/20), Camp Nelson, Coy Flat, Mountain Aire, Pierpoint, and points between (issued 9/6/20), Alpine Village, Sequoia Crest and Redwood Drive (issued 9/4/20), Ponderosa, Cedar Slope, Pyles Camp, and points between (8/28/20). 
  • Currently, the nearest Red Cross evacuation center is at Clovis North High School, 2770 E. International Ave, Fresno. For assistance with evacuation, call the Red Cross at 1-800-RED-CROSS or https://tinyurl.com/yafetgkj
  • Tulare County residents are encouraged to sign up for emergency notifications at alerttc.com
  • Park and Campgrounds closures: Mountain Home Demonstration State Forest; Tulare County’s Balch Park Campground; and all the campgrounds within the Sequoia and Inyo National Forests. 
  • All National Forests in California are currently closed as of September 9, 2020. 
  • Current conditions in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks may be found at: https://tinyurl.com/y3q9x5l8
  • For current information on California Highways, visit https://dot.ca.gov/ . 
  • The current Temporary Flight Restrictionfor the Sequoia Complex may be found by clicking here. The use of drones over the fire is also prohibited.   

Priorities include: Communities listed in the above evacuation orders, Casa Vieja, Blackrock Ranger Station, Rogers Camp, Beach Meadows, Monache Meadows, structures along the Lloyd Meadows Road, Freeman Grove, the President George H.W. Bush Tree, Camp Whitsett, archeological values, Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog and Little Kern Golden Trout Critical Habitats, Pacific Fisher habitats, OSA, Beach, and Beck Meadows, trailheads and facilities.

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SQF Complex Grows a Little & Daily Videos Published

Golden Trout Pack Station near Lewis Camp Trailhead – SQF

Source: InciWeb

Operational video briefings continue to be posted to the Sequoia National Forest Facebook site daily.

Yesterday, The Sequoia National Forest announced it has temporarily closed public access to the forest due to extreme fire behavior. This follows the Regional Office’s 9/7/2020 Emergency Forest Closures that temporarily closed eight National Forests, including the Sequoia and Inyo National Forests. 

Sequoia (#SQF) Complex: The 64,258 acre complex includes the 63,729 acre Castle Fire and the 529 acre Shotgun fire.  Approximately 52,413 acres of the Castle Fire is in the Sequoia National Forest and 11,316 is in the Inyo National Forest.

Castle Fire: Yesterday,firefighters caught a break with weather conditions that helped moderate fire behavior activity. This allowed personnel to get in on the western flank of the fire to strategically plan for a containment line. Crews began to implement the plan by constructing indirect line, utilizing old fire scars and working down to the White Meadow area.

On the southwestern corner, containment lines continue to hold the fire from Kern River to Lion Meadows. While some smoke has been visible in the area, it is not expected to be a threat. Further southeast, crews were able to get in and work on the finger of fire that had progressed on Monday towards Beach Meadows. Firefighters knocked down spot fires and were able to get a good assessment of structures in the area.  Preparation for line construction continues from Blackrock Mountain to Beach Ridge.

Today, crews will continue to prioritize working on the western edge of the fire, stitching together pieces of containment line that will include natural fuel breaks and roads. The goal is to keep the fire spread east of Lloyd Meadow Road and north of Ponderosa and the Mountain Aire communities. Jordan Peak and White Meadow will be assessed for structure protection needs. Fire behavior in the Freeman Grove, which currently has a low intensity, creeping fire, will continue to monitored, and mop up will continue where possible. Further east, evaluation and preparation for structure protection will continue in Casa Vieja and Monache Meadows.  

Crews assigned to structure protection have been active and mobile, familiarizing themselves with the multiple communities under mandatory evacuation. This plan allows all firefighters to become familiar with multiple areas and gives them situational awareness to be able to respond effectively, if and wherever, fire does break out.

Shotgun Fire:  529 acres and continues slowly burning in a rocky drainage and being monitored by aircraft.

Weather: Wednesdaywill be the coolest day of the week, with high temperatures ranging from the low 70s to the upper 80s in lower elevations. Winds will begin today out of the northwest, and will become southwesterly by early afternoon. High pressure will move into the region on Thursday night and temperatures will become hotter.   

Smoke: Smoke from the Creek Fire will impact the Kern River Valley until the inversion lifts in the early afternoon. Heavy smoke will return and settle in the evening. For more information: https://fire.airnow.gov/

Evacuations and Closures:

  • Evacuation Orders from the Tulare County Sheriff are in effect for the following communities: Camp Nelson, Coy Flat, Mountain Aire, Pierpoint, and points between (issued 9/6/20), Alpine Village, Sequoia Crest and Redwood Drive (issued 9/4/20), Ponderosa, Cedar Slope, Pyles Camp, and points between (8/28/20). An Evacuation Warning is in place for Doyle Springs.  
  • Road Closures: 1) State Hwy 190 at Rio Vista Road, 3 miles east of Springville; 2) Mountain Road (MR) 107 (Great Western Divide Highway) and MR 50 (both roads at their junction), 1 mile east of Parker Pass; 3) MR 99 and the Sherman Pass Road (both roads), 19 miles north of Kernville near the Johnsondale Bridge; 4) Sherman Pass Road, west of Kennedy Meadows. 5. Cherry Hill Road (Forest Route  22s12) at its junction with the Sherman Pass Road.
  • For assistance with evacuation, contact the Red-Cross at 1-800-RED-CROSS or https://tinyurl.com/yafetgkj
  • Tulare County residents are encouraged to sign up for emergency notifications at alerttc.com
  • Park and Campgrounds closures: Mountain Home Demonstration State Forest; Tulare County’s Balch Park Campground; and all the campgrounds within the Sequoia and Inyo National Forests.
  • The USDA Forest Service on 9/7/2020 has issued the following: Emergency Forest Closures (Order No. 20-07 and Order No. 20-08) and Emergency Fire Restrictions (Order No. 20-06) for the Pacific Southwest Region that  temporarily closes eight National Forests, including the Sequoia and Inyo National Forests.
  • A Temporary Flight Restriction has been issued for the airspace around the fire complex, and it was extended further west on Tuesday. Drones are also prohibited.

Priorities include: Communities listed in the above evacuation orders, facilities within Trout Meadow, structures along the Lloyd Meadows Road, Freeman Creek Grove and other Sequoia groves, the President George H.W. Bush Tree, Camp Whitsett, archeological values, Peppermint Fire Station,  Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog and Little Kern Golden Trout Critical Habitats, Pacific Fisher habitats, OSA and Beach Meadows, trailheads and facilities.

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