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Take A Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Jan 10, 2016
hikers-group

DianneErskineHellrigelIt started out as an ordinary day. Members of the Community Hiking Club of Santa Clarita were assembling at the Walker Ranch Trailhead on New Yaer’s Day at 10 a.m. for their annual hike up Los Pinetos Trail to Wilson Saddle.

Hiker Lise Meyers saw the smoke first. She pointed it out to several other hikers. Sure enough, it was smoke, and it was rising perhaps 10 to 15 feet in the air.

The smoke was far from any road, and there had been no lightning in the area. In fact, other than being cold, it was a perfect, sunny day. We decided to call 9-1-1.

Lise placed the call. Within about 15 minutes, the first fire engine arrived. Since the fire was not accessible to a fire truck, they called in the wildland firefighters from Camp 9. They arrived quickly, and we watched from the Los Pinetos Trail as the helicopter doused the fire with water at least twice.

We surmised it must have been a campfire, since there was nothing in the area – perhaps homeless persons, or perhaps someone up to no good. It turned out to be the latter.

After we returned from our hike, we were surprised to see a sheriff’s helicopter in the air along with lots of sheriff’s vehicles and fire trucks and cars parked along Placerita Canyon Road. Emergency vehicles were everywhere.

hike01The fire was long out. We wondered what all the excitement was about.

Once we got home, we found out that while extinguishing the fire, the Camp 9 helicopter found a pot farm with an estimated 1,000 plants. One of the “farmers” was probably cold and started a fire. This is what led to their downfall. When sharp hikers noticed the smoke, they were right there to protect their precious open space.

Hikers are indeed heroes. It wasn’t the first time they’ve helped law enforcement.

In previous years, our club has turned in pot farmers in Fish Canyon; turned in graffiti as it was being created; and helped to preserve petroglyphs, endangered fish, protected cupules and fossils. Our hikers are also eco-friendly. They are constantly volunteering for everything from trail work to non-native invasive species removals, trash removals, graffiti removals and much more.

It wasn’t the first time pot farms have been found in Placerita Canyon, either. Pot farmers seem to be attracted to the area because there are nearby springs. There have been many “busts” in the area.

I’m pleased we had a hand in turning in this pot growing operation. Unfortunately, in this case the growers were not apprehended. Their campsite was found, and the sheriff’s took care of the illegal pot farm in good order.

hike06I’m proud of our hikers for standing up for what is right and just. I’m proud of Lise Meyers for noticing the smoke in the first place, and then calling it in. I’m proud of the firefighters who handled it so professionally and quickly, preventing a little campfire from becoming a full blown chaparral fire in the Angeles National Forest. In reality, it could have become another Station Fire and devastated the land for years.

I’m proud of the wildland firefighters for noticing the unusual growth of the pot plants below, and I’m proud of the sheriffs for serving their community with such honor and respect.

And yet none of these people consider themselves to be heroes. They’re just doing their jobs. But they are all heroes to me.

Pot farms do not belong in our forest. Chaparral and native grasses belong there. Native flora and fauna belong there, not pot farmers. We don’t need or want this element in Santa Clarita.

This was a great way to start the New Year. I’m filled with pride. Fight on.

 

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.

 

hike05hike03hike02

 

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