Firefighters Save Trout Hatchery
Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery has survived budget cuts and threats of closures over the years. On Saturday, it survived a fire.
Alas, a thousand rainbow trout, broodstock which would have produced eggs next March, perished.
The Inyo Complex fires, ignited by lightning strikes on Friday afternoon, had burned 37,403 acres in the Big Pine and Independence areas by Monday.
The fire caused the Saturday closure of Highway 395, a major artery for anglers and other recreational enthusiasts that visit the Eastern Sierra from Southern California.
Bruce Ivey of the Friends of Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery lives two miles away from the 90-year-old hatchery and could see it through a spotting scope.
"When the smoke and flames were so high, I thought the hatchery had gone down the tubes," Ivey said.
It was close.
"I'm aware of the fact that it's a very precious resource," said Jim Wilkins, a fire information officer. "It was one of the priority areas. So they moved a lot of equipment and used air resources to fight (the fire there)."
Nine firefighters, after evacuating an elderly woman from a residence just above the hatchery, were over-taken by the fire and survived by jumping in nearby ponds.
"There was 20 minutes where they were surrounded by fire and hollering on the radio," Wilkins said.
Water drops were made around them. They suffered minor burns, and six were hospitalized with respiratory problems.
The debris from the fire choked the stream that feeds the hatchery. Consequently, it plugged the filtration unit of the raceways where the Mt. Whitney strain rainbow trout were raised, said Ivey, who surveyed the damage Monday.
The trout averaged 2-4 pounds. Trout in the display pond in front of the main hatchery... Read More
Article courtesy of the Orange County Register at The Orange County Register