Fire

Firefighters work to put out embers in a wildfire blamed on someone using a cooking pit Thursday in Joshua Tree.

JOSHUA TREE — A cooking fire spread and burned roughly an acre of grass, bushes and Joshua trees before firefighters put out the flames Thursday in Joshua Tree.

Battalion Chief Mike McClintock from the county fire department said the flames were reported around noon in the 6000 block of Juniper Road.

“Someone was cooking outside in a non-approved fire pit,” McClintock said. “All it takes is one spark or one ember in the seasonal grass and with a little bit of wind, it’s gone.”

The dry grasses cloaking the desert floor make any outdoor fire dangerous, the chief warned. The grass is flash fuel that ushers flames from brushes to trees and eventually to homes, creating fast-moving wildfires of the kind that many people don’t expect in the desert.

“With all the grass, any spark can cause a large fire,” he said hours after Thursday’s blaze. “Pretty much every few days this week, we’ve had a couple of acres going up in flames.”

Both the state and county fire agencies have suspended all burn permits and McClintock urges everyone in the Morongo Basin to be aware of how dangerous any flame can be.

“We’re trying to get people to not have fires outside,” he said. “With a little bit of wind, it will burn a pretty significant amount of land. It gets out of control really quick and doesn’t allow people to handle it.”

Adding to the problem, he said, is the number of tourists staying in vacation rentals. They usually don’t see warnings about the fire danger in local media, and may not understand that fire can be a real danger in the desert.

McClintock said recent wildfires in the desert have been caused by “a mix” of locals and visitors.

After winter’s record rainfall, the fire danger is more significant than ever in the Morongo Basin, he emphasized.

“We’re really trying to keep people away from having fires and toward having defensible spaces and a plan for evacuation.”

Thursday’s fire was the second this week in Joshua Tree. Nearly 4½ acres burned in the Joshua Tree Highlands area near Anaconda Drive and Quail Springs Road Monday.

Crews from the county and state fire agencies worked together to knock down the flames and prevent them from catching in nearby homes. County and Cal Fire are investigating the cause.

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