Claremont brush fire burns four acres

About four acres at the Bernard Field Station in Claremont burned Thursday, May 18, the second fire at the Claremont Colleges’ natural laboratory in the last five years.

Thursday’s fire was combated by 12 fire engines, one water tender, four camp crews and three helicopters from the Los Angeles County Fire Department, according to Claremont police.

City Manager Tony Ramos and Assistant City Manager Colin Tudor stood with officers from the Claremont Police Department, who assisted with crowd and traffic control. Claremont PD Sgt. David DeMetz coordinated the police effort.

“The cause at this time is unknown,” Sgt. DeMetz said at the scene Thursday.

Police kept Mills Avenue and Foothill Boulevard open to cars, Sgt. DeMetz explained, but access to the Claremont School of Theology and the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden via North College Avenue were limited to foot traffic only. The fire was contained to the Field Station only and did not damage surrounding structures or fields.

Internet and phone service is currently out at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. According to RSABG staff, the garden and Grow Native Nursery is still open for business.

Amber Dawn Miller and Linette Nelander were driving up College Avenue north of Foothill at about 5:30 p.m. to check on hours of the butterfly exhibit at the botanic garden when the two friends saw smoke rising from the field station.

“Once we saw the smoke, we immediately called 9-1-1,” Ms. Miller said. “Police were here in two minutes—even less than two minutes.”

The fire, according to Sgt. DeMetz, was discovered just inside the entry gate on the westside of College, north of Foothill.

Four LA County ground crews made up of 10 to 12 firefighters each, equipped with pick axes, chainsaws and water hoses, made their way into the brush.

The crews cut back burning brush, only stopping to take cover as three separate LA County helicopters dropped tons of water on the flames.

LA fire crews had the blaze under control by about 7 p.m., but continued to work at the field station well into the night to insure that no embers remained, police said.

In September 2013, a quick-moving fire destroyed 17 acres at the Bernard Field Station after a Golden State Water Company crew sent sparks flying while using a metal saw on the north side of Foothill Boulevard.

This Thursday, however, Golden State Water representatives were on-hand only to offer the fire department access to water pumps, according to Mr. Ramos.

The Bernard Field Station is located on about 86 acres of land owned by the Claremont Colleges, approximately 75 acres of which make up the Claremont University Consortium’s north campus.

Approximately five acres are owned by Harvey Mudd College and the Claremont Graduate University owns another six acres. According to the BFS website, the area contains one of the largest remaining parcels of Coastal Sage Scrub in Los Angeles County.

For most Californians, the mere thought of wildfires conjures up dismal feelings. For this particular parcel, however, it may not be as bad as it seems.

“The language people use when talking about fire tends to be words like disarray, damage and destruction, but what I’m arguing for is that this is in fact about creation, regeneration and growth,” Char Miller, director of the Environmental Analysis Program at Pomona College said after the 2013 fire.

“Fire is a very creative force,” he continued. “It’s devastating to be sure…but now we have a wonderful educational opportunity. We have this living laboratory right in our backyard.”

—Kathryn Dunn


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