‘Hazard trees’ hampering highway reopening

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The loud buzz of chainsaws echoed along Highway 50 west of Strawberry Thursday evening as firefighters dismantled what once stood as a giant among giants.An evergreen — identified earlier in the day as a still-smoldering “hazard tree” after the Caldor Fire tore through its home this week — fell across the highway.As the tree trunk lay on its side, its cross-section exposed and measuring waist-high to most of the firefighters working on cutting it into moveable pieces, a Caltrans front end loader ferried wood chunks to a controlled burn pile set in a clearing a short distance away.“What we have behind me is one of the biggest hazards any time we’re working in the wilderness,” said Brian Price, a battalion chief for the Fresno Fire Department, currently part of Incident Management Team 6 on the West Caldor Division as he stood in front of the downed tree. “Not just the fire and the heat, but the result of the fire and the heat– damage to the trees.”Highway 50 remains closed in both directions through the Sierra because of what the Caldor Fire left in its wake.Although active flames and fire spread are subsiding in the stretch of roadway between Pollock Pines and Strawberry, there’s still a lot of work that needs to happen before the road is safe for travel, Cal Fire said“We have a lot of crews that go through the area and drop any hazard trees,” said Kevin Brown, a public information officer for Cal Fire. “A lot of trees, even though they’ve burned, are still standing and they’re just waiting for that next gusty wind to come through and take them down … We can’t allow that to occur.”The tree that came down across 50 on Thursday near Strawberry did not hurt anyone, nor did it cause damage to any emergency or utility crews along the route.“The fact that we ended this specific situation with nobody being injured and no long-term delays, it was a huge win,” said Price. “None of these trees, none of this is worth anyone’s life. Civilian or public servant.”Cal Fire explained that getting the fire contained and putting it out is only the first step in its work on a wildfire.Crews must exercise situational awareness, constantly keeping an eye out for fire-weakened trees in their surroundings.“Frankly, if we’re unsure if they’re gonna be a hazard in the coming year, they come down,” said Brown.Work of this nature, however, doesn’t happen overnight.“There is so much heavily forested area in here,” explained Price. “It’s gonna be a real issue for a while to come till we can get crews through here and clear out those hazard trees and make it safe for the public.”Cal Fire said it does not have a set date for when all the hazard trees will be spotted and removed nor is there a set date for when Highway 50 will reopen.Fire managers said they realize waiting for the highway to once again accommodate Sierra travelers and residents is frustrating, but they want to stress that crews are making progress.

The loud buzz of chainsaws echoed along Highway 50 west of Strawberry Thursday evening as firefighters dismantled what once stood as a giant among giants.

An evergreen — identified earlier in the day as a still-smoldering “hazard tree” after the Caldor Fire tore through its home this week — fell across the highway.

As the tree trunk lay on its side, its cross-section exposed and measuring waist-high to most of the firefighters working on cutting it into moveable pieces, a Caltrans front end loader ferried wood chunks to a controlled burn pile set in a clearing a short distance away.

“What we have behind me is one of the biggest hazards any time we’re working in the wilderness,” said Brian Price, a battalion chief for the Fresno Fire Department, currently part of Incident Management Team 6 on the West Caldor Division as he stood in front of the downed tree. “Not just the fire and the heat, but the result of the fire and the heat– damage to the trees.”

Highway 50 remains closed in both directions through the Sierra because of what the Caldor Fire left in its wake.

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Although active flames and fire spread are subsiding in the stretch of roadway between Pollock Pines and Strawberry, there’s still a lot of work that needs to happen before the road is safe for travel, Cal Fire said

“We have a lot of crews that go through the area and drop any hazard trees,” said Kevin Brown, a public information officer for Cal Fire. “A lot of trees, even though they’ve burned, are still standing and they’re just waiting for that next gusty wind to come through and take them down … We can’t allow that to occur.”

The tree that came down across 50 on Thursday near Strawberry did not hurt anyone, nor did it cause damage to any emergency or utility crews along the route.

“The fact that we ended this specific situation with nobody being injured and no long-term delays, it was a huge win,” said Price. “None of these trees, none of this is worth anyone’s life. Civilian or public servant.”

Cal Fire explained that getting the fire contained and putting it out is only the first step in its work on a wildfire.

Crews must exercise situational awareness, constantly keeping an eye out for fire-weakened trees in their surroundings.

“Frankly, if we’re unsure if they’re gonna be a hazard in the coming year, they come down,” said Brown.

Work of this nature, however, doesn’t happen overnight.

“There is so much heavily forested area in here,” explained Price. “It’s gonna be a real issue for a while to come till we can get crews through here and clear out those hazard trees and make it safe for the public.”

Cal Fire said it does not have a set date for when all the hazard trees will be spotted and removed nor is there a set date for when Highway 50 will reopen.

Fire managers said they realize waiting for the highway to once again accommodate Sierra travelers and residents is frustrating, but they want to stress that crews are making progress.

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