Signs of Labor Day Weekend could be seen all over the Kern River Valley on Friday, Sept. 1. Vendors started setting up their booths in Kernville at Circle Park for the Sierra Arts and Crafts Festival; the stage was being set for Fishstock bands to play the next afternoon, and visitors started arriving and setting up camp, eager to start the weekend with fun on the river or fishing at the lake. But by mid-afternoon, an all too familiar sight and smell filled the air.
Calls started coming in at approximately 2:37 p.m., reporting that big plumes of grey and black smoke could be seen above the mountains West of Kernville. The Kern River Ranger District of the Sequoia National Forest was dispatched to the Caldwell Creek area where they found a vegetation fire that had burned about 50 acres and was moving at a moderate rate of spread. Due to the fire’s remote location, the cause is believed to be a lightning strike from the thunderstorm that passed through the area the night before.
The steep terrain surrounding the fire made it difficult for ground crews to gain access; some were flown in by helicopter while others had to hike for over an hour, in 100-degree weather, to battle the blaze. More than 50 personnel from U.S. Forest Service, BLM, and Kern County Fire Department were on site with air support from Cal Fire, dropping bright red flame retardant and buckets of water on the fire, until nightfall grounded them for the day.
Fortunately, the mild weather of the night kept fire activity to a minimum as a crew of smoke jumpers monitored the fire line throughout the night.
Fire crews worked diligently in the early hours of Saturday morning on containment lines on the west side of the fire. The flames had reached Cannell Meadow Trail and was still active on the North and South ends. However, by midmorning, the fire was reportedly 20 percent contained. Two fire personnel were also flown off the line on Saturday with minor injuries.
Significant progress on fire lines was made on Sunday, Sept. 3, as the entire Western and Southern flanks of the fire were contained, boosting containment to 61 percent.
By the end of Monday, Sept. 4, the only area that was still showing heat was in the northeast corner of the fire, near the Cannell Meadow Trail. In total, the Caldwell Fire burned 1,319 acres. At press time, it was reported to be 90 percent contained.