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UPDATE JULY 24: Smoky skies in Mammoth due to 2,000-plus-acre Aspen Fire on west side of Sierra crest

July 24, 2013

Wednesday, July 24. Old Mammoth Road in Mammoth Lakes lies under a pall of smoke from a fire burning on the west side of the Sierra crest. Photo/Wendilyn Grasseschi

The smoky sky above Mammoth and the Eastern Sierra that became noticeable on the evening of Tuesday, July 23, and into the morning of July 24 is due to a 2,000-plus-acre fire on the west side of the Sierra crest, north and west of Huntington Lake, near a SCE reservoir called Mammoth Pool Reservoir.

The nearest town is Huntington Lake.

The fire is almost directly 40 miles west of Aspendell, a small community west of Bishop (located on S.R. 168, the road to Sabrina Lake, South Lake and North Lake).

The fire is called the Aspen Fire and was between 2,000 and 3,000 acres as of 6 a.m. Wednesday morning, July 24, according to Sierra National Forest officials. It was zero percent contained at that time. A new management team is taking over the fire Wednesday morning and more updates are expected from that team later Wednesday, according to a Sierra National Forest spokeswoman, Kelly Hooten.

Hooten said the fire poses no danger to Huntington Lake or the Big Creek area and is burning in mostly uninhabited country, although some campgrounds,including Sample Meadows and West Kaiser, have been evacuated and a forest road, Stump Springs, has been closed.

According to forest service officials, the area was hit hard by lightening strikes over the past few days, beginning on Sunday.

"Since Sunday afternoon, the Sierra National Forest/High Sierra Ranger District has received significant lightning activity," a news release stated. "These downstrikes have resulted in 15 new wildfires, the largest of which is the 300-acre Aspen Fire located below Stump Springs Road just north of Aspen Creek.

"Extreme fire behavior has been observed on the Aspen Fire, with spotting of over 600 feet ahead of the main fire. At one point late Tuesday afternoon, all crews were pulled off the fire line for safety reasons.

"The Aspen Fire has the potential to make large uphill runs and threaten the Stump Springs Road area.

"Sierra National Forest officials have ordered the Central Sierra Type 2 Incident Management Team for the incident (http://scsierra.imtcenter.net/main/Index.aspx)," the news release states.

"Of the additional lightning fires, three are in wilderness areas and two have been unable to be located by fire personnel, but are likely to show smoke again during the day Wednesday," the news release stated.

"All fires are less than a quarter acre. The fires are split between the Kings River drainage and the San Joaquin River drainage and occurred between 1,100 feet and approx. 9,400 feet in elevation. Four fires are already fully contained but will continue to be monitored.

"There are currently four 20-person fire crews assigned to the fires with two additional crews on order. Three air tankers and four helicopters are also involved in suppression efforts. U.S. Forest Service smokejumpers have been deployed on some of the more remote fires.

The fire is almost directly west of the Mammoth area and only a few dozen miles away as the crow flies, giving the smoke easy access to the Eastern Sierra, if the winds come from the west.

For additional fire information, please contact: High Sierra Ranger District at 559-855-5355, or Clovis at 559-297-0706.

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