The Carr Fire at Whiskeytown

Four paddleboarders on Whiskeytown Lake looking at smoke from fires in the distance
Park visitors on stand-up paddleboards observe the beginning of the Carr Fire on a blistering hot July 23, 2018. While no one knew it at the time, the fire would get much worse before it got better. NPS Photo/Matt Switzer

During a record-tying heat wave in late July of 2018, the Carr Fire began inside Whiskeytown National Recreation Area (NRA). There was an Immediate and aggressive response by emergency services personnel from the National Park Service, CalFire, U.S. Forest Service, and other important partners. The fire was fought aggressively utilizing hand and engine crews, bulldozers, and air attack.

In spite of these efforts, the fire quickly spread due to extreme heat, extreme wind, and other factors. The fire ultimately grew to 229,651 acres in and around Whiskeytown NRA. Three firefighters died, four civilians died, and over 1,000 homes and buildings in and around the park were destroyed. With over 97 percent of the park burned, the Carr Fire was the most destructive fire in the history of the National Park System.

While the entirety of Whiskeytown NRA was initially closed, park staff, partners, and contractors have made significant headway in rebuilding infrastructure and re-opening much of the park.

To learn more about the Carr Fire and the park's post-fire recovery efforts, click on the links and/or continue reading below.


Tiimeline of the Carr Fire and Response

Carr Fire Summary and Frequently Asked Questions - PDF Brochure (forthcoming)

Photos of Carr Fire and Post-Fire Recovery (forthcoming)

 

Burned Area Emergency Response Team

Immediately following the fire, a National Park Service Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team was brought in to work with Whiskeytown NRA staff to assess the park's conditions, survey natural and cultural resources, and inventory park equipment and supplies. Next, after determing which areas or specific park features needed to be stabilized or treated, work began on numerous projects. Finally, the team developed a re-opening strategy for the park.

Read more about the BAER team's work in the park:


A BAER of a Task: A Multi-Agency Team’s Mission to Assess Parkwide Damage in Whiskeytown NRA Following the Carr Fire

Carr Fire BAER Plan (some portions have been redacted to protect sensitve cultural and natural resources)

Find more information about current closures and reopenings

 
Remains of house burned by Carr Fire
Several of the park's employee houses burned during the Carr Fire, including this one. NPS Photo

Brief Summary of Damages to Park Infrastructure

With 39,000 acres burned out of the park’s total 42,000 acres, Whiskeytown NRA suffered significant facility damage. Some of this damage includes but is not limited to the following:

  • Five of the park's six employee residences were completely destroyed.

  • The Oak Bottom Marina suffered significant fire damage to boat docks, concession-owned boats, and private boats.

  • The Whiskey Creek and Brandy Creek water treatment systems were heavily damaged.

  • The remnants of the historic Whiskeytown Store and Post Office burned to the ground.

  • Ten camper cabins were destroyed at Whiskeytown Environmental School.

  • Many trailhead signs, wayside exhibits, and informational signs throughout the park were burned.

  • Nine buildings were burned at the Crystal Creek Boys Camp.

  • The Search and Rescue (SAR) Cache and other SAR and emergency medical equipment was destroyed.
  • The park law enforcement building and dispatch center obtained significant damage.
  • The majority of historic fruit trees within the Tower House Historic District burned.
  • All wooden structures associated with the historic El Dorado Mine were destroyed.
  • Numerous bridges throughout the park burned.
  • Several park employees living near the park lost their homes and personal belongings.

Fire and the Forest

The vast majority of the park's vegetation burned during the Carr Fire. While this has altered the view substantially within much of Whiskeytown NRA, fire is generally recognized by the National Park Service as a natural process. Fire is nature's recycling on a grand scale, and with time, vegetation is naturally restoring itself onto the burned landscape. When you visit and revisit Whiskeytown NRA, take note of this slow but steady process - watch post-fire ecology in action.

An important factor to note is that the Carr Fire did not burn at the same intensity throughout the park. Topography, vegetation type, and pre-Carr Fire land use history influenced how the fire burned through specific areas of Whiskeytown NRA. Because of this, a fire mosaic landscape is visible today. Some great places to see this mosaic include the following:

  • The Trails to Whiskeytown Falls and Crystal Creek Falls - in these areas of the park, you'll see that the fire only lightly touched the vegetation. The steep topography and cooler, wetter north-facing slope played a role in resisting some of the fire's rage within the upper Crystal Creek drainage here.
  • Buck Hollow Trail - the area around this one-mile-long trail was burned in a prescribed fire the year before the Carr Fire. As a result, the Carr Fire did not burn through this area as intensely and some green vegetation remains. To access the Buck Hollow Trail, a high clearance vehicle is needed.

Reopening the Park: Success Stories

Park staff and partners have been working hard since the fire to reopen it. This said, visitor and employee safety is our number one priority. As such, it's been a slow but steady process. In general, park staff has focused on safely reopening the most popular areas of the park first. This includes the marina and beach day use areas, picnic areas, etc. Here are some accomplishments...

  • 10,000 Hazard Trees Removed - employees and contractors have identified and removed over 10,000 hazard trees. Hazard trees are burned or partially burned trees near roadways, trails, picnic areas, campgrounds, and other developed areas of the park. They have been cut to reduce the chances of falling on a person, car, or park structure.
  • Public Firewood Sale - where terrain and access allowed, park staff placed hazard trees and other downed trees in piles, or log decks. Through wood collection permits, the park then opened up these log decks to the public so that they could cut and collect for use as firewood. This program occured in February and March of 2020 and was highly regarded by the local community. Over 100 of these permits were sold at very low price.
  • Subsantial Trail & Footbridge Restoration - park maintenance staff have substantially restored numerous sections of trail and replaced four footbridges that burned.
  • Planting Shade Trees in Day Use Areas - in popular day use areas, the park is preparing to plant tree seedlings in partnership with the CalFire Tree Nursery at the University of California, Davis. These trees will eventually provide much-needed shade from the summer sun for picnickers and beachgoers.

Ongoing Challenges & How You Can Do Your Part

While much of the park has been reopened, the top and face of Shasta Bally remains closed. This highest mountain in the park has highly erosive soil, and with the trees burned and no longer holding soil underneath in place, the threat of debris flows are real. Debris flows can be fast and dangerous. They occur when large quantities of soil loosens due to rainfall. To protect visitors and staff, the majority of roads and trails on Shasta Bally and its north and west face remain closed.

When out and about in the park, you can do your part to remain safe. Please remain only in open areas of the park and please follow all park rules and regulations. Finally, even in the reopened areas, be aware of new hazards created by the fire. Be alert and watch out for trees falling, loose soil, and abondoned mine pits. Read the yellow caution signs scattered throughout the park before setting out.

 
Cleanup Continues
Dry trees and shrubs post-fire Picnic area cleared of dead trees and shrubs
Before Cleanup NPS / James Bailey
After Cleanup NPS / Mike Litterst
Areas must be clear of imminent safety risks, such as hazardous trees and snags, before reopening for public use.



 

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    Last updated: March 27, 2020

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    Whiskeytown , CA 96095

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