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Fire ravaged forest brings sadness, also beauty for campers | News

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Fire ravaged forest brings sadness, also beauty for campers

EL DORADO NATIONAL FOREST - Even as campers pour in to the El Dorado National Forest for the Memorial Day weekend, dangers remain.

Several members of a group of campers from Sacramento didn't even realize they were near the King Fire's burn zone as they set up tents at the Ponderosa Cove Campsite.

Fortunately, one camper did understand the risk from burned trees and branches that can still fall on unsuspecting hikers.

"They call them widowmakers because they can fall down right on your head and kill somebody, so the dangers are very real," said Andy Jacobs, who said he had a "red card," indicating he was trained to fight wildfires.

"Those one's right up above us?" asked campground host Rodney Mercer, as he looked up at several large branches on burned trees above his camper at the Stumpy Meadows campsite. "They'll be pulling those out," he said, referring to crews that will begin removing dangerous trees and limbs at the campground on Tuesday.

Another danger are trees damaged by bark beetles that attack trees weakened by drought.

"That's where they're boring in. They get underneath the tree bark and just work their way around, then they kill it off and no water goes up," Mercer said of a huge tree bleeding sap beside his camper.

Many fire and beetle-damaged trees will be cut down by salvage loggers, while others smaller than 10 inches across will be taken out and burned or chipped for mulch.

Those planning to hike into the burn zone of the King Fire are being urged to take extra caution to watch for leaning and fire-damaged trees.

There is an up side for campers.

"The camp host said that any downed trees in the vicinity we can use as firewood," said Makenzie Secora, as she sat playing dominoes at a campsite at Ponderosa Cove.

She was amazed at how quickly parts of the burned forest are already showing signs of new life.

"Definitely, there's a lot of regrowth already, even around this site," she said.

Another threat are burned out stumps that have left deep holes in the ground, but that can be masked by brush and ash. A hiker stepping in one can turn an ankle, or worse.

Some campers are stunned by the devastation.

"It's pretty devastating," camper Robert Murillo said. "I mean, it's depressing. It's something I've never seen in my life."

At the same time, Murillo acknowledged the beauty still left all around him, even in a fire ravaged forest.

"Honestly, just getting away from society and enjoying the great outdoors," he said, as night fell across his campsite -- a site saved by firefighters during the King Fire last fall.


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