Mud flows from Rough fire-scarred hillsides worry officials

Rock, mud and debris remain on a closed road in the Sierra National Forest following an afternoon rain storm in October 2015.
Rock, mud and debris remain on a closed road in the Sierra National Forest following an afternoon rain storm in October 2015. United States Forest Service

When rain pelted mountains east of Fresno after the Rough fire, mud and sediment flowing off the burned hillsides swamped roads in the Hume Lake Ranger District.

And that is not a problem that will end anytime soon: It could take three to five years before burned areas have revegetated to the point where mud flows are unlikely, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

The Forest Service took photos of the sediment and debris left on paved roads in the Oct. 17 storm, and although the mess is not as dramatic as the mud and debris flows that trapped truckers and motorists on the Grapevine and Highway 58, the potential danger to mountain visitors prompted rangers to keep several roads closed until spring and tell the public to stay away from specified areas.

District Ranger Teresa Benson announced last week that many roads closed during the Rough fire, which normally would have reopened until winter closures, will stay closed because of mud and debris flow worries and the need to repair some dirt roads used by firefighters.

“With that in mind, and the normal recreation season ending in mid-November, I decided to keep these areas closed until next season,” she said.

Still, the road leading from Highway 180 to Hume Lake has reopened and is expected to remain so through the winter as usual. It is kept open so the Hume Lake Christian Camp can operate its winter camps. The roadway also provides access for year-round residents.

Additionally, the Ten Mile Road that connects Hume Lake to the Generals Highway has reopened but will close at first snow, which could come as soon as Monday.

But several areas remain closed to both cars and foot traffic because of the risk of falling trees and branches, unstable ground from burned vegetation and water runoff.

For instance, the road to McKenzie Ridge used by hunters is closed, as is the road to Buck Rock and Big Meadows.

I decided to keep these areas closed until next season.

Teresa Benson, district ranger

This winter, Sequoia National Forest crews will monitor Highway 180 from Grant Grove to Cedar Grove for mud and debris flows, rock falls and downed trees, and take action as needed in time to open in spring, the Forest Service said.

Areas closed in the Sierra National Forest include Black Rock, Kirtch Flat and Sawmill Flat campgrounds; Spanish Lake OHV route, Patterson Mile Road, McKinley Grove Road, and Rodger Ridge after the Crown Valley trailhead. In the Sequoia National Forest: Big Meadows, including the road to Buck Rock and the road along McKenzie Ridge.

“The public should plan and expect potential increased water and sediment flows from these burned areas to continue past the first year following the wildfires,” the Forest Service said.

The Forest Service issued this advice:

▪ Don’t cross swift flowing water or areas prone to flooding and sediment flows.

▪ Don’t drive or walk in flowing water because even 2-inch deep water can sweep a person downstream.

▪ Report mudslides or flash floods to local authorities.

Forest closure maps for the Sequoia National Forest can be found online at www.fs.usda.gov/sequoia and for the Sierra National Forest at www.fs.usda.gov/sierra.

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold

For information about recreation or closures in the Hume Lake Ranger District and Giant Sequoia National Monument, call the Hume Lake Ranger District at 559-338-2251, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.