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Hikers Flee Sierra Nevada After Forests Close Due To Wildfires

Flames incinerate a forest as the Creek Fire rapidly expands on September 8, 2020 near Shaver Lake, California. (David McNew/Getty Images)
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The high peaks, alpine lakes and rugged mountain passes of the Sierra Nevada are always crowded on Labor Day weekend. But this year, thick smoke and dangerous wildfires forced many hikers to cut their trips short and flee the area on foot, car, or even in helicopters.

Most of the mountain range is now closed to visitors, and many hikers reported receiving emails that their upcoming backpacking permits were also cancelled through mid-September.

The U.S. Forest Service, which manages most of the land in the Sierra Nevada, closed the area on Sunday due to "extreme heat, significant wind events, dry conditions, and firefighting resources that are stretched to the limit."

In public Facebook groups, hikers described how difficult it was to decide whether to continue on, or turn around, when they had little information about where fires were burning or what direction they were moving.

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Lauren Rae wrote on Monday:

"Being 2 days and 4000 feet of descent into a trail, having no communication with the outside world, getting no helpful information from the one wilderness ranger we ran into, and ending up within 30 miles of a rapidly growing fire is not an experience I'm interested in repeating."

Jaymie Shearer and her hiking companions decided to end their backpacking trip on the western side of the Sierra Nevada early when a huge black plume of smoke began to block out the mid-afternoon sun on Saturday, she wrote in a blog post. They tried driving out of the mountains, but the road passed by Mammoth Pool, where the Creek Fire had trapped more than 200 people.

So the group ended up having to flee on foot, hiking to a different trailhead and leaving their car behind.

"We made it back to the Mammoth Trailhead by 6 p.m. At this point we were in robot/survival mode—moving robotically, doing our best to stay present, and trying to continue making the best decisions as we could," Shearer wrote.

Other hikers were evacuated by helicopter from the Vermillion Valley Resort, a popular re-supply location, China Peak and Lake Edison.

The following National Forests are temporarily closed: Stanislaus, Sierra, Sequoia, Inyo, Los Padres, Angeles, San Bernardino and Cleveland National Forest.


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