Re: Amargosa Canyon

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Posted by Tumbleweed on March 08, 2002 at 20:00:38:

In Reply to: Amargosa Canyon posted by -rookie on March 08, 2002 at 13:24:36:

TECOPA, Calif. - Firefighters from four different agencies have extinguished an apparent arson fire that scorched roughly 290 acres of desert trees and shrubs on state and federal land in the Amargosa Canyon just south of this small Mojave Desert community.

Pushed by moderate winds and fueled by thick plant growth along the Amargosa River, the blaze burned through about a mile of the canyon, part of which is under consideration for federal recognition as a Wild and Scenic River area. Six engines and several hand crews from the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and the California Department of Forestry had contained the fire by noon Wednesday. Gail O'Neill, resources branch chief for BLM's Barstow, Calif., field office, said the fire was essentially out by later that afternoon.

At its height, the blaze created an orange glow in the sky south of Tecopa, and on Tuesday it cast a smoky pall over Shoshone and nearby Chicago Valley. By Tuesday afternoon, a brownish haze from the fire could be seen over southern Pahrump, about 35 miles away.

The fire appears to have started just south of the sewage treatment pond in Tecopa, and arson is suspected. Though evacuations were probably at least considered early on when the fire was still being evaluated, O'Neill said the town was never seriously threatened. She added that there were no reports of injury or damage to any "functional buildings" along the river drainage.

It is not known exactly when the fire started, but the first calls came in to the Southern Inyo Fire Protection District at just after 9 p.m. Monday. Volunteers from the service battled the blaze through the night, hampered somewhat by cold temperatures that caused several hoses to freeze. One firefighter guessed temperatures dipped into the lower 20s.

O'Neill said the fire was fueled by thick stands of salt cedar, mesquite, willow and cottonwood trees, as well as native desert scrub brush. A resource advisor trained in biology has already visited the site to assess the damage. Some replanting of native species may be in order, namely to help prevent flooding and erosion, "in case it ever does rain out there," O'Neill joked.

Though destructive, the blaze may have provided a service by thinning vegetation and improving access to the area. O'Neill went on to say that the loss of the non-native salt cedar could prove beneficial as well, although it is likely to sprout again.

Throughout the West, including Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge and Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the BLM and other wildlife management agencies conduct programs designed specifically to eliminate concentrations of salt cedar, also known as tamarisk.

One thing the fire apparently won't do is affect the area's eligibility to become a Wild and Scenic River. O'Neill declined to predict how long the process might take, but she said the designation would essentially help to "maintain the status quo" in the area - or at least the parts of it now under the control of the BLM. "It would not effect private land," she said.

The section of the Amargosa under consideration as a Wild and Scenic River includes some areas designated as "wild," some as "scenic" and some as "recreational." The fire was mostly contained in one of the "wild" areas, O'Neill said.

ŠPahrump Valley Times 2002

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