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Fire dangers keeping UC Davis reserves in western Yolo County on high alert

Hot Shot crews set backfires to help contain the County Fire

Hot Shot crews set backfires to help contain the County Fire along Highway 129 near Lake Berryessa in Yolo County on Tuesday, July 3, 2018.
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Hot Shot crews set backfires to help contain the County Fire along Highway 129 near Lake Berryessa in Yolo County on Tuesday, July 3, 2018.

High fire danger and the threat of the County Fire has prompted UC Davis officials to close one of its nature reserves and put two others on heightened alert, according to a UC Davis report.

The Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve, less than 2 miles from the southern border of the County Fire, has been closed since June 28 due to a red flag warning issued by the National Weather Service after temperature and humidity levels reached dangerous levels. After the County Fire began, roads surrounding the reserve were also closed, preventing entry into the area.

The Quail Ridge Natural Reserve, less than 4 miles from the fire's southern border, and the Donald and Sylvia McLaughlin Natural Reserve, less than 10 miles northwest of the fire's northern border, are also taking steps to ensure the safety of the site and its contents.

"We've been taking precautions, including moving all personnel offsite (and) moving any kind of irreplaceable scientific equipment and data samples to campus," said Shane Waddell, Quail Ridge's station director.

Although all other personnel at Quail Ridge have been evacuated, Waddell himself is staying on the site to monitor the fire by listening to radio broadcasts and going outside to watch the fire from afar. He's also available to help out those who might need it.

"If firefighters need access, I have a lot more knowledge [of the area]. I know where the ridges are, where the roads are." he said.

So far, the Quail Ridge reserve is safe: According to Waddell on Tuesday, the wind was fairly calm and he hasn't seen any evidence of embers flying into the reserve and igniting.

For now, he said all he can do is "sit tight and hope the weather helps us out."

UC Davis' reserves provide an outdoor laboratory space for university level research classes, as well as activities for students from elementary level to high school. According to Waddell, they're important because "they give students hands-on experience in the field." Quail Ridge sees around 1,000 students from annually, and the Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve welcomes approximately 65,000 hikers every year.

Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve closed to the public for a year after the 2015 Wragg Fire ignited surrounding wildlife. According to Sarah Oktay, the reserve director, it is still possible to see traces of the 2015 fire in the reserve in the trees, which are partially blackened. She hopes the County Fire won't inflict similar damage.

"We want people to be safe," she said.

The County Fire is burning through dry grass, oak stands and brush about 55 miles northwest of Sacramento between Highway 16 and Lake Berryessa.

Here are dramatic images of how the smoke from the 44,500-acre County Fire is filling the air around Lake Berryessa and Yolo County.

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