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Joshua Tree to Remain Open Despite Fire

Blaze: Although 13,000 acres have been blackened, firefighters expect full containment by Tuesday. Officials say lightning sparked flames, confined to northwest area of park.

May 31, 1999|From a Times Staff Writer

JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK — Despite a fire that has burned more than 13,100 acres since Thursday, this popular draw for hikers and rock climbers will remain open today.

As of Sunday night, the fire in the northwestern part of the park was 70% contained, authorities said. Firefighters expected to completely contain the blaze, the largest of four lightning-sparked fires that have plagued the park, by Tuesday evening, according to Judy Behrens, information officer for the U.S. Forest Service.

"No structures are threatened," Behrens said. "All burn has been within the park and all have been natural resources."

Two of the four fires were extinguished immediately after they started Thursday and a third was contained early Saturday morning, she said. The total burned acreage makes this the largest fire in the park's history.

About 600 campers along Quail Springs Road, an area stretching between the Geology Tour Road and the west entrance, were evacuated Saturday. The Hidden Valley and Ryan campgrounds, which are popular rock climbing sites, had to be temporarily closed down. They were reopened Sunday evening.

Despite the fires, the seven other campgrounds in the park were packed over the long weekend, according to park officials.

"We still have a good number of people coming," said Brande Langdon, a ranger at the Oasis of Mara visitors center. "A lot of people have not heard about the fires."

In fact, she added, some visitors came specifically to view the fire.

Behrens said the rocky and steep terrain in the 794,000-acre park has posed a challenge for firefighters.

"That's why we're using lots of air support," she said. Six helicopters and seven air tankers were involved in Sunday's effort, which included 960 firefighters and support personnel from federal, state and local companies.

No one has been seriously injured. Two firefighters suffered minor back and eye injuries, and others have had to contend with poison oak and bee stings, Behrens said.

The northwest end of the park has been a site for other large fires that have burned between 5,000 and 6,000 acres.

"Wild land fires have a tendency to burn again and again in the same areas," Behrens said. "A lot of it has to do with the terrain and vegetation, the lay of the land and the way fires historically move."

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