Aspen fire's recreational impact varies

The Fresno BeeJuly 31, 2013 

China Peak is running one chair lift to the top offering a ride for those who want to try out the new 27-hole disc golf course, the mountain bike paths or simply ride to the top for a picnic and ride back again. Huntington Lake is seen to the left and in the far distance is the Kaiser Wilderness. Photographed Sunday afternoon, July 14, 2013.

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA — The Fresno Bee Buy Photo

An avid triathlete, China Peak owner Tim Cohee went for a run Wednesday afternoon from the Huntington Lake ski resort to Lakeshore beach and back.

Hang on a second. Isn’t there a huge forest fire raging nearby? Isn't the air thick with smoke?

Well, yes and no.

There is a forest fire -- the Aspen Fire -- burning just over the ridge in the Kaiser Wilderness. Started last week by lightning storms and fueled by dry forest conditions, it's engulfed more than 14,000 acres and is only 35% contained, according to government officials.

However, the air quality at Huntington Lake and along Kaiser Pass Road has improved as winds from the south and southwest blow most of the smoke toward North Fork, Bass Lake and Oakhurst — even across the Sierra toward Mammoth Lakes.

A similar weather pattern, winds from the south and southwest, is expected to continue into the weekend.

"I'm looking out my window right now, and you would not know anything is going on," Cohee said Wednesday afternoon. "Except for a tiny bit of haze. But that's it.

"I've got the window open in my office, and you can't smell any smoke."

Despite the nearby fire, China Peak is going full-speed ahead with Saturday's Mud Run. Nearly 400 people have registered.

If those folks are worried about the smoke, they aren’t showing it. Cohee said he's received four emails and a dozen Facebook comments from runners concerned about air quality.

"That means more than 90% of the people are saying, 'Hey, it's a race. I'm going," Cohee said. "That's the way it normally is with these types of events."

That isn't to suggest everything is business as usual.

All trails in the Kaiser Wilderness are closed, and firefighters have taken over the Rancheria, Midge Creek and Badger Flat campgrounds.

All other campgrounds at Huntington Lake remain open, though nearby campgrounds (West Kaiser, Sample Meadow) and roads closest to the fire (Stump Springs, Sample Meadow) remain closed.

More impacted are roads and campgrounds on the north side of the San Joaquin River. Minarets Road is closed from Fish Creek to the Jackass Rock Organization Campground, as is Grizzly Road from Beasore Road to Minarets Road. Wagner's Mammoth Pool Resort is closed, as are nearby campgrounds including Little Jackass, Placer, China Bar, Mammoth Pool, Fish Creek, Lower Chiquito, Soda Springs, Sweetwater and Rock Creek.

Cal Fire spokeswoman Karen Guillemin said she did not expect any additional facilities to be closed this weekend due to the fire.

Guillemin said visitors to Huntington Lake won't see much difference, except for the presence of extra firefighting personnel and their vehicles.

"There's nothing that should prevent folks from coming up this weekend and enjoying the lake," she said. "All we ask is people have a heads-up when driving."

Campgrounds, roads and businesses along Kaiser Pass Road remain open, though conditions are variable.

"It all depends on how the wind's blowing," said Jeff Winslow, owner of Mono Hot Springs Resort. "We had some smoke (Tuesday), but (Wednesday) there's none. It's all clear blue skies."

Winslow said one asthma sufferer went home due to the smoky air and that he's had plenty of phone calls about the conditions but so far no cancellations.

"Nothing's really changed," Winslow said. "People up here are still hiking, fishing and going on pack trips."

China Peak Mud Run

** When: Saturday

** Where: China Peak

** What: Five-kilometer course through ski area includes mud pits, walls, crawling sections and jet showers. Total elevation gain is 1,007 feet.

** Registration: $45 per person through Friday, $50 on day of event

** Details: www.skichinapeak.com

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6218 or marekw@fresnobee.com.

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