The 1,137 acres of the Stanislaus National Forest burned by the Ramsey Fire in August will remain off limits to the public until further notice due to safety concerns, the U.S. Forest Service announced Thursday.
An emergency response team recently assessed the post-fire environment and determined there were a large number of hazardous trees with deceivingly green canopies posing a risk to public safety, according to the Forest Service announcement.
There was 10 inches of red fir duff built up on the forest floor in some areas that burned and left pockets of hot ash, baking shallow root systems and leaving trees standing that appear healthy but could be easily blown over by wind, according to Alex Janicki, leader of the Burned Area Emergency Response assessment team.
“Along with the obvious hazards of burned trees coming down, we’ve discovered that seemingly healthy green trees have compromised root systems and pose a serious risk of falling as well,” said Stanislaus National Forest Supervisor Susan Skalski in a written statement.
Other hazards identified by the team were an increased risk of soil erosion causing unstable ground and burned out stumps and root systems covered by ash posing pitfall risks where hot embers may still be burning beneath the ground.
All roads and trails leading into the burned area were closed off while firefighters battled the blaze, and will remain closed until further notice, the Forest Service said.
Anyone caught trespassing in the closed area is subject to fines of not more than $5,000 and a term of up to six months in jail, according to the Forest Service order implementing the closure.
“We’ll have our team go in there to take a look and see what can be done to mitigate the hazards, but I would imagine that area will be closed until at least next year,” Forest Service spokesman Jerry Snyder said.
The Ramsey Fire started Aug. 11 and was declared fully contained 12 days later, after burning roughly two square-miles of grass and timber off Highway 4 between Cottage Springs and the Caltrans Cabbage Patch Maintenance Station.
More than 500 state and local firefighters were assigned to the blaze at one point, while several helicopters and DC-3 airplanes dropped water and flame retardant dozens of times over the course of the operation.
A multi-agency fire management team also had to be called in to take over command and control responsibilities of the firefight from the Forest Service.
Several firefighters were injured, including as many as six who had to be treated for reactions to bee stings and one who was taken from the scene by helicopter to be assessed for heat stroke. All injured firefighters were quickly treated and released.
Officials estimated the total cost of battling the fire at about $4 million, Snyder said, adding that the cost was driven up by the heavy use of aircraft because steep terrain and a lack of access points made it difficult for firefighters to reach the area by ground.
“A bulk of the response cost would be for aviation,” he said.
An escaped campfire was identified as the cause of the blaze and a citation was issued, but the Forest Service has since declined to release any other details.
Snyder said it’s too early to discuss whether the Forest Service plans to seek compensation for operational costs from the person who was cited for the escaped campfire, because the incident is still under investigation.
The burned area of the Ramsey Fire was located in what’s considered a “moderate fire hazard zone,” and the Forest Service has since prohibited campfires in such zones.
Campfires are still allowed in low hazard zones in the high country, such as the Emigrant Wilderness north of Yosemite National Park, but a string of small blazes started by escaped campfires in those areas have concerned the Forest Service in recent weeks.
There were three separate escaped campfires that cropped up in the Bear Lake area since last week. All three burned less than one acre and have been contained, Snyder said.