On Sunday, September 1, 2002, I was at my home in Azusa gathering my gear for an overnight backpacking trip up Hawkins Ridge above Crystal Lake that afternoon. It was around 1:30 p.m. when the phone rang. It was my friend Dave.
“Have you seen it? Dave asked.
“Seen what?” I replied.
“Step out and look north.” he said.
I rushed out into my front yard and looked toward the mountains. There before my eyes, a huge smoke plume rose high into the sky. My heart sank. All I could do was cry out in anguish.
By the time the Curve Fire was contained three weeks later, it had consumed 20,857 acres of our Angeles National Forest, including incinerating most of the Crystal Lake Basin, much of the Sheep Mountain Wilderness, and the historic South Hawkins Fire Lookout. Then on September 22, the Williams Fire began its rampage near Williams Camp in the East Fork San Gabriel River. By the time that fire was contained, it had destroyed 37,240 areas. In fact, the two fires met and became known as the Curve-Williams Complex, burning more than 58,097 combined acres of our forest.
I know that wildfires are a news story that we are all too familiar with as many thousands of acres are burned every year. Sometimes we even get a little jaded to it. But it’s different when the fire is in your own backyard destroying the forest you love.
San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders were restoring trails at Crystal Lake and I could hook up with them. So I did and on June 21, 2003, I got my first up-close experience of the horrific fire damage. Over the years while Hwy 39 and Crystal Lake were closed, I continued to work on trails with the Trailbuilders and watched the area slowly recover. It was disheartening at times to work on trails that the public did not have access to. But we knew that if we did not keep them maintained, they would be lost.
Finally, after more than 8 years of closure, on March 22, 2011, CalTrans reopened Highway 39 and the general public could once again enjoy the Crystal Lake Recreation Area.
Today, on the 10th anniversary of the Curve Fire, I pause for reflection. I think about the courageous firefighters who battled on the front lines and an army of other firefighting personnel from pilots to base camp cooks. Once the smoke cleared and the fire was out, years of restoration followed. I think about botanists, foresters, chainsaw operators, engineers, road crews, utility workers, heavy equipment operators, carpenters, hand crews, pack animal wranglers, skilled tradesmen, volunteers...many people who deserve our thanks and appreciation.
Links on Dan’s Hiking Pages and Blog pertaining to the Curve Fire:
- Wildfires on Dan's Hiking Pages - Reports and photos of the Curve and Williams fires 2002.
- Big Cienega Trail hike description at Dan's Hiking Pages - With a hike report from August 30, 2003
- Windy Gap Trail hike description at Dan's Hiking Pages
- Mt. Islip hike description at Dan's Hiking Pages
- Blog: Lewis Falls Hike - July 17, 2011
- Blog: Mt. Islip Hike - July 23, 2011
- Blog: Mt. Islip from Crystal Lake Hike - July 15, 2012
- Blog: Williams Fire 2012
- Hawkins Ridge Hike - September 2-3, 2012
- Photo Album of Hawkins Ridge Hike - September 2-3, 2012 - 130 photos
- Slide show of a Trailbuilders workday on lower Islip Ridge Trail - July 17, 2004
- Mt. Wilson 150-Foot Solar Tower Best of the Towercam - September 2002 Curve Fire Gallery