Rough Fire Hits 72,300 Acres; Smoky "At Least Another Week"

By: 
Wendilyn Grassescjo
Staff Writer

The Rough Fire grew again over the weekend, adding another approximately 12,000 acres in a few days and bringing the fire to about 72,300 acres as of Monday morning, Aug. 31. This is the largest fire on the west side of the Sierra crest that has affected the Eastern Sierra in the past several years; in all cases smoke has been the main impact with days of thick gray smoke covering much of the Eastside from Independence to Topaz.

Unfortunately, after two weeks of often smoky skies, including several days where the smoke has been defined by the air pollution control district as "Unhealthy" or even "Hazardous," which is the worst rating given, the situation is not likely to get much better for "at least another week" and probably more, according to Kevin Slusarski, a Rough Fire information specialist, who spoke to the Times from the fire on Friday, Aug. 28.

"You should expect smoke for more than a week, for at least another week," he said. "We are working on a fire with extremely steep slopes, it has been very hot and dry. It's very difficult to get firefighters into the fire, due to the terrain. We are making progress; the fire is at 25 percent contained, and we have been able to protect most structures, but this is still a very active fire."

His words were underscored Friday morning when the fire did something very unusual - it grew so fast within an hour or so that it created a "plume," or column of smoke, that rose into the air tens of thousands of feet, something that normally does not happen on fires until afternoons, when heat and upslope winds tend to trigger the fastest fire growth.

The fire continued to grow over the weekend, gobbling up heavily forested areas to the north of Hume Lake and moving west, toward Wishon, as well as north and east toward the John Muir wilderness and the Sierra crest. The fire poses no threat to Eastern Sierra residents and property as it cannot cross the high, rocky country of the crest, but as it grows larger and closer, the inevitable consequence is more smoke.

Firefighters are also contending with a lot of beetle-killed trees, above normal temperatures for the past several weeks since the fire started on July 31, and winds that are more erratic than normal because of the topography of the Kings River country where the fire is embedded; a country of heavy forests that have rarely been thinned by previous fires and deep, steep river canyons which can create unusual wind patterns, according to fire authorities.

Add four years of drought, which has dried the Sierra to a crisp, and all of the ingredients are in place for a fire that resists control; hence even after one month of effort and with more than 2,000 firefighters on the job, the Rough Fire is still only 25 percent contained; just like it was a week ago.

According to the National Weather Service, the next few days will bring cooler weather to the Eastern Sierra and to the fire, which is located near Hume Lake (see map) and west and south of Big Pine, on the other side of the Sierra crest. However, strong winds are also expected as an incoming low pressure system displaces the high pressure system that has trapped heat and smoke over the fire and over the Eastern Sierra. Those winds are also expected to come from the south and west, meaning the smoke from the fire, which is south and west of much of the Eastern Sierra, will continue to come across the passes of the Sierra, especially over Kearsarge Pass west of Independence and Bishop Pass west of Bishop.

When will it end?

"We do not have a containment date," said Slusarski. "I cannot speculate on when it will be contained."

For more information on this fire, go to: http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/4456/

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