BASS LAKE — With winter weather approaching, bringing the potential for high winds and heavy snows, the dangers posed by dead trees along mountain roadways has become very real.
Cal Fire, in conjunction with the US Forest Service, the Madera County Sheriff’s Office and County Roads, is getting out ahead of this dangerous situation by removing hazard trees that threaten to block roads and endanger motorists.
Tuesday through Thursday, Dec. 1 – 3, crews from these agencies will be working along Road 274 on the north shore of Bass Lake, to bring down those dead trees. The project will span the area between Road 331 near the Bass Lake Courthouse, to Central Camp Road on the southeast end of the lake.
“It’s a pretty daunting task,” says Cal Fire Unit Forester Len Nielson. “We have identified about 1,200 trees that have the potential to fall into the roadway, just along that one stretch.”
Nielson says the plans are still being finalized, but he is assessing everything within 200 feet of the road, and looking at all potential issues and challenges.
“You can’t fall by power lines, you can’t fall by houses, infrastructure, or water lines,” says Nielson, who is also evaluating anything that might pose an environmental concern. He notes that while the governor’s executive order of Oct. 30, declaring a state of emergency regarding tree mortality, will ease regulation for this type of project, it doesn’t mean the regulations can be ignored. It just helps to expedite the process.
Madera County will provide any logistical needs, and will have a loader on scene to clear debris after trees have been limbed and bucked up. They will also be handling traffic control and flagging.
The Madera County Sheriff’s Office will provide message signs, put out a reverse 911 call to residents in the area, and do notifications when necessary.
Motorists should expect delays of up to 30 minutes. The fallers will drop a tree, crews will clear the roadway, and then traffic will be allowed to pass through before the next one is brought down. The work will start at 9 a.m. each day, and Nielson anticipates the last tree will come down at about 3 p.m.
There will be about 10 fallers from Cal Fire and the Forest Service, and they will drop trees away from the roadway wherever possible. However, there are many that simply won’t fall anywhere but in the road.
Firefighters assigned to the project will report to the scene with their engines or utilities, and will be available to respond to emergencies as needed. Any kind of wind event could cause the project to be cancelled, or crews could be diverted to another incident if there is a large fire.
As for what will happen to all the wood from the downed trees, Nielson says it will be up to the landowner.
“It’s not my decision, but in talking to the County, one option is to leave some of it on the side of the road, in safe pullouts where it’s accessible to the public for firewood,” says Nielson.
Though this is not a training event, it will provide an opportunity for some training experience for fallers, who need to be recertified every three years.