A wildfire ignited from unknown causes within Joshua Tree National Park on Sunday afternoon, May 24, 2009. Called the Lost Horse Fire, for the nearby Lost Horse Mine, the fire began shortly before 4 p.m. in a remote area of rugged hills between Geology Tour and Keys View roads. Vegetation fueling the fire included Joshua trees, pinyon pines, and junipers, as well as desert scrub. Gusty afternoon winds spread the fire over approximately 100 acres by 7 p.m.
Twelve visitors were hiking on the Lost Horse Mine Trail on Sunday when they encountered the fire and were unable to retreat back down the trail. The hikers, though never in any immediate danger, were airlifted to safety by helicopter at about 7 p.m.
Working through the night, firefighters took advantage of cool evening temperatures and light winds to begin the process of establishing a line around the fire. By morning fire officials estimated the size of the fire at 150 acres with 50% containment.
With helicopters and hand crews on the attack, firefighters made significant progress in containing the fire on Monday. By 7 p.m., Incident Commander Chuck Heard declared the fire 80% contained with full containment projected by 8 a.m. Tuesday. More detailed mapping led to an upward estimate of the area burned from 150 acres to 450 acres.
A special consideration for fire fighters was the fire’s proximity to the historic Lost Horse Mine, one of the park’s largest and best preserved stamp mills used in the processing of gold ore. A burnout around the mine was accomplished on Sunday night establishing a protected area for the 10-stamp mill. No part of the historic mine property was touched by the fire.
Fire plans for Tuesday call for one helicopter to continue water drops with two hand crews retained for mop-up operations and to extinguish any remaining hot spots. Lost Horse Mine Road and trailhead, the Oyster Bar parking area, and the Hall of Horrors parking area will remain closed on Tuesday. All other facilities will be open for normal visitor use.
Visitors are urged to use caution while driving through the park and to be alert to the presence of firefighting equipment and other emergency vehicles. Joshua Tree National Park campers are asked to follow all park regulations regarding the use of campfires by building fires only in provided fire grills and never leaving a campfire unattended.
For further information, the media can contact Joshua Tree National Park at 760-367-5522. The phone number for regular park visitor information is 760-367-5500.