Cranston Fire

UPDATE Monday 30th July 2018 at 1430

The San Jacinto Trail Report will steadily transition back to its primary objective (trail information) over the next couple of days. However a handful of quick pieces of fire-related news follow.

Helicopters continue to move back-and-forth across Idyllwild making water drops in the South Ridge area, but at greatly reduced intensity compared to recent days. Barely any smoke was visible up there at dawn this morning, and town was almost smoke-free.

Ground crews were deployed in the high country yesterday, primarily in the north-east area of the fire front (e.g., Red Tahquitz). The main visible smoke this morning was on the north-west side of Red Tahquitz, where the fire had marginally slopped over the east-west Tahquitz ridge into areas largely burned by the Mountain Fire in 2013.

Some residents returned yesterday with the evacuation order lifted for Idyllwild-Pine Cove, including almost all our immediate neighbours. Many part-time residents continued to stay off the hill however, allowing for a more gentle transition into “normal” town life. The Post Office, USFS Idyllwild Ranger Station, and some businesses and restaurants are reopening today. The Mount San Jacinto State Park headquarters remains closed.

The only road into Idyllwild remains Highway 243 from Banning. The original plan was to restrict access today to only residents plus commercial traffic, but non-residents are now being allowed access via Hwy 243 also.

Highway 74 on both sides of Mountain Center, and Highway 243 from Mountain Center to Idyllwild, remain closed. Highway 74 to Hemet will apparently remain closed for a minimum of another week (per CalTrans), after which traffic will be subject to flag and flow controls for at least two months. In the burn areas along Highway 74, Southern California Edison has to replace over 120 power poles, including more than 90 using aerial lifts by helicopter. I’m hearing anything between a minimum of two to four weeks to complete that work. In summary, the three road routes out of Mountain Center will be subject to continuing significant disruption for weeks or probably months.

Finally, many thanks to the dozens of people who contacted the San Jacinto Trail Report in recent days to say thank you for our accurate and detailed coverage of developments during the Cranston Fire. We did the best we could in challenging circumstances. Special thanks to Steven Morris and Martha Ludlum, and to Chrissy King, for their generous donations in recent days to help maintain this website. Donations are always accepted at this page! A full list of website supporters is always maintained here.

Thanks to all, and safe hiking. Jon.

Cranston Fire

UPDATE Sunday 29th July 2018 at 1315

Highway 74 south from Lake Hemet (to Highway 371/Paradise café) is now open. It will remain closed from Lake Hemet to Mountain Center for the foreseeable future.

UPDATE Sunday 29th July 2018 at 1015

The evacuation order for Idyllwild-Pine Cove has been lifted in the last hour. Access is for residents with identification only, and only via Highway 243 from Banning.

This morning Idyllwild was much less smoke-filled than the previous two days, with an encouraging rise in humidity. There are still a couple of hotspots smoldering on the Idyllwild side of South Ridge just south of Tahquitz Peak, but nothing that is apparently cause for alarm. The Cranston Fire is at 13,130 acres and is 29% contained, according to InciWeb.

After an early morning hike, I checked around the fringes of town a little. Good news is that despite the fire burning around and through it, the transfer station is open already. I’m guessing it will fill up fast with the contents of fridges that were without power for a few days. Note that the transfer station is currently only accessible from above via Saunders Meadow Road, not via the shorter route from Hwy 243 (which is still closed just after Marian View Drive).

The persistent hotspots at the southern end of South Ridge – where May Valley Road comes off from Cowbell Alley – have been contained and there was no sign of smoke there.

The situation for hikers and recreation remains largely unchanged and is described at this link. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and Long Valley hiking trails will reopen tomorrow, Monday 30th July, at 10am, according to the facebook page of the Tram.

Cranston Fire

UPDATE Saturday 28th July at 1930

The helicopters finally fell silent at about 1600, a telltale sign that the hotspots on South Ridge were under control, at least for another evening. The ridge looks beautiful tonight, clear and smoke-free, but then it did last night too.

Highway 243 from Banning will apparently reopen tomorrow for those with confirmed identification as residents of Idyllwild-Pine Cove. Unfortunately Highway 74 has much greater challenges on both sides of Mountain Center, and it remains very unclear how long it will be before that highway can reopen to anything other than emergency traffic. It’s possible we may have to deal with only one route in and out of town for several weeks.

Details of trail and recreation closures are discussed at this link.

Cranston Fire: trail update

All trails in the USFS San Jacinto Ranger District and the Mount San Jacinto State Park, including those served by the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, are currently closed. The full recreation closures for both agencies are listed here.

The U.S. Forest Service issued an official forest closure order on the evening of 27th July, details of which are available at this link. This draconian measure initially closes the entire San Jacinto Ranger District trail system until 31st August 2018.

Hopefully common sense will prevail, and trails that are completely unaffected by (and literally miles away from) the Cranston Fire, such as Fuller Ridge Trail, Black Mountain Trail, Seven Pines Trail, and Marion Mountain Trail, among others, will be considered for reopening as soon as possible. Obviously these are functionally closed anyway at this time, given the combination of road closures (for non-residents), and the closure of the State Park at their higher elevations. Once those measures are lifted however, there is no logical reason to keep the aforementioned trails closed.

Bear in mind that this closure order applies only through August 31st. Some trails will remain closed long after that. Almost exactly five years on from the Mountain Fire, some trails are still closed from that fire (Caramba Trail, PCT from Spitler Peak Trail to Grethe Spring).

Fortunately, damage to high country trails by the Cranston Fire has been much more limited than by the Mountain Fire, but for example it is highly likely that the PCT south from Saddle Junction to Grethe Spring, the trail to Tahquitz Peak, and South Ridge Trail, will be closed well beyond August 31st. [I will be posting detailed information on trails impacted by this fire by the end of July.]

Exactly what the State Park does (and when) remains to be seen. It is not directly affected by the Cranston Fire at all, so hopefully it will reopen relatively soon. Of course many of the trails accessing the State Park initially pass through USFS land, complicating access (other than by the Tram) unless the agencies coordinate their approach.

Humber Park is closed. The closure order is posted on the gate. (By chance, installation of this new gate was only completed a few weeks ago!)
Closure at the upper end of the Ernie Maxwell Trail.

Cranston Fire

UPDATE Saturday 28th July at 1245

Sorry if this pattern is starting to sound familiar, but as with the previous two days, the major aerial water bombing campaign has been effective, and the hotspots I described earlier today seem to be under control. Regrettably, the weather has been less cooperative than anticipated, with a slightly cooler day not materializing, and its already 92 degrees F in Fern Valley. There was also a moderate south-west wind in the high country early this morning which is not helping (although winds have been far less dangerous than they could have been throughout this whole incident).

UPDATE Saturday 28th July at 1030

Cranston Fire slopping over South Ridge just south of Tahquitz Peak, 28th July at 1015. Note the helicopter dumping water above the left hand smoke column.

Although the overall spread of the fire has greatly diminished, for the first time it broke through the line along the top of South Ridge in several places overnight. I was up hours before first light, and could see trees and bushes burning on the Idyllwild side of the ridge in at least three places, which was both dramatic to see, and somewhat disconcerting. With binoculars I could see that one of the spot fires was a bush right next to Tahquitz Peak fire lookout, but by first light it had burned itself out and was just smoldering.

Fire crews had a well deserved rest first thing, and aerial activity didn’t commence until 0800. Since then the helicopters have been working incessantly to douse the hotspots.

These continuing challenges with the fire may – I emphasize may – have delayed any prospect of the evacuation order being lifted imminently. Incidentally, rumours that the power in town is intermittent (or even off again) are untrue.

Cranston Fire

UPDATE Friday 27th July at 2010

Contrary to remarkably stubborn and ill-informed rumours, apparently spread by folks nowhere near Idyllwild, Tahquitz Peak fire lookout has not burned and is still standing strong as of 8pm this evening.

Tahquitz Peak fire lookout digiscoped from my house at 8pm on 27th July 2018

South Ridge looks as smoke-free as it has since Tuesday. However persistent hotspots evidently remain and some aerial suppression continues as I write. Barring some dramatic, unforseen change in the wind, I think its fair to say that the situation is looking at its most optimistic since this all began on Wednesday.

UPDATE Friday 27th July at 1700

Power seems to be restored to all of Idyllwild and Pine Cove. Current estimates are that it may be several weeks before power is restored to Mountain Center and Apple Canyon.

Although there is still significant helicopter activity putting water on hotspots on the east side of South Ridge, the smoke looking east from Idyllwild is the least threatening it’s been since Wednesday.

UPDATE Friday 27th July at 1450

Power starting to return to Idyllwild neighbourhoods, one of my neighbors WiFi signals just showed up on my ‘phone.

Also, Pine Cove residents with proof of a physical address north of Marion Ridge Drive are being allowed to return home by CHP via Hwy 243 from Banning.

UPDATE Friday 27th July at 1410

Power is back on in the centre of Idyllwild. Hasn’t come back in most residential neighborhoods yet, but we’re obviously heading in the right direction.

UPDATE Friday 27th July at 1330

All remains well in town. A nasty flare-up on the east side of South Ridge just over from the top of South Ridge Road has led to an amazing procession of helicopters over our house in the ladt hour, ferrying water from Dutch Flats to the blaze.

The flag at Tahquitz Peak shows a gusty south-west wind up high. It’s obviously not helping the suppression effort that the wind is shifting from day-to-day, but at least it’s not strong.

I just checked Tahquitz Peak and was dismayed to see the chapparal immediately on the south side of the Tower smouldering, literally within 100 yards of the structure. But fingers crossed, the old girl will hang in there.

Spirits in town remain high. I have a friend with a cache of a dozen bags of ice, so as long as we have enough gas to keep the generators running, there’s no reason to be drinking warm gin-and-tonics.