The San Bernardino mountains have been burning since last Saturday, and after days of high winds, the so-called Old fire is threatening the town of Big Bear and its local ski resorts. However, according to Brad Farmer, public relations director for Big Bear Mountain Resorts, both the town and resorts are safe and intact at this time, and firefighters are winning the battle to save the area.
Farmer says although the fire is only seven miles away from the town, it has been contained at two different spots in the nearby mountains, one at the Seven Oaks dam, and the other at Manzinita Flats. Another leg of the fire that was near the town of Fawnskin was pushed into another area that had burned several years ago, and was dying out as well.
The fire has burned more than 350 homes in the community of Arrowhead and is still raging in the nearby mountain forests. Another fire has threatened another ski resort in Southern California, Mount Baldy in the San Gabriel mountains, but it appears safe as well at this time.
The Big Bear Valley was evacuated on Tuesday, but Farmer says about 30 resort employees stayed behind to make a stand if the fire threatened the buildings and lifts. The management of Big Bear Mountain Resorts, which includes the snowboard meccas of Bear Mountain and Snow Summit resorts, have taken several steps to save the ski areas. In the last day they’ve created fire breaks at the top of the ridge lines nine bulldozer-blades wide.
Snowmaking guns were positioned around the resort, and a new sprinkler system had been installed this summer to protect the resort just in case a forest fire came close. The crew was prepared to turn on the snowmaking system and wet down the resort if the fire approached.
The skeleton crew had also began taking chairs off of lifts and securing other things around the resort, but have since stopped.
In addition, the weather is helping the battle. Humidity levels are up around 70 percent today (compared to less than ten percent last weekend when the fires started), and snow is even in the forecast for tomorrow. Farmer says an additional 1,000 firefighters are being brought in tomorrow to fight the Old fire as well, which will help tremendously. “We’re looking good right now,” says Farmer.
Ironically, Big Bear Mountain Resorts management had been preparing for a fire like this all summer, along with guidance from the town and Forest Service. The surrounding forest is reportedly 70 percent overstocked with trees, and a large number of them were dead or dying because of a bark beetle infestation. The resorts had been removing 100s of trees from around their facilities and lifts just in case something like this happened. They also installed the sprinkler system. “We were really preparing for something like this,” says Farmer.
There is no scheduled start to the snowboard and ski season at Big Bear, but with snows approaching, the ski areas will be doing anything they can to get the season started. Farmer says Bear will probably open first, and Summit will follow. “This situation has put us back a good week to two weeks with some projects to prepare the resorts for opening, but we’ll get them opened as soon as we can.”
And all that really takes is some much needed cold weather.