Owens River Fire Started by Old Clark Fire Spark

Staff Writer

The Owens River Fire has been determined to have been caused by a re-ignition of the Clark Fire, according to a news release from the Inyo National Forest today, Oct. 6.

The Clark Fire started Aug. 4 and was ignited by a lightning strike. It was declared "controlled" on Sept. 7; a fire is declared controlled when firefighters believe anything still left burning within the fire perimeter cannot escape the fireline.

However, in some cases, a spark or burning debris can remain hidden and/or smolder undetected by firefighters, especially in large fires where it is more difficult to cover every square foot of the fire on the ground.

This appears to be what occurred in the case of the Owens River Fire, according to the news release.

"Specifically, fire investigators determined that the Owens River Fire ignited in a box canyon meadow near the Clark Fire from a layer of dense organic material that was smoldering beneath the ground surface," the news release states. "This organic material, in combination with wind patterns in the canyon on Sept. 17 re-ignited surface vegetation, causing the Owens River Fire.

"The Clark Fire was ignited by lightning on Aug. 4. Fire managers determined that it was fully contained on Aug. 13 at 2,819 acres and controlled on Sept. 17. Crews continued to patrol the Clark Fire perimeter until Sept. 17 when the Owens River Fire ignited. Other Forest Service employees have monitored the fire area from the Bald Mountain Lookout and from other areas to observe post-fire effects of the Clark Fire. All observed a continued decrease in visible smoke associated with the Clark Fire.

"The Owens River Fire started on the afternoon of September 17, 2016, and grew quickly under strong winds and dry conditions. The fire remains at 5,443 acres and is 98 percent contained.

"The Forest Service also has determined that the fire suppression efforts for the Clark Fire employed the normal standard of care, including post-containment monitoring and mop-up work when determined to be necessary," the news release states. "Residual sub-surface heat caused by the smoldering organic layer in the area where the Owens River Fire began was not apparent and, therefore, was not detected by any firefighting personnel or other Forest Service employees.

"The presence of a subterranean, dense organic layer that could potentially support a fire for long duration is difficult to detect and not a normal occurrence. This is the first such documented occurrence on the Inyo National Forest," the news release states,