District 8: El Dorado Fire puts Caltrans to the test


The El Dorado Fire off State Route 38 in District 8 (Photo by Ryan Dorsett)

The El Dorado Fire forced the closure of State Route 38 in Caltrans' District 8 and posed many daunting challenges for the department and other state agencies.

By District 8 Public Affairs

The El Dorado Fire began on Sept. 5 in the El Dorado Park region near Yucaipa, located within District 8. The 23-day fire burned about 22,600 acres in the San Gorgonio Wilderness Area of the San Bernardino National Forest and in the Oak Glen/Yucaipa Ridge area.

The blaze forced residents in the communities of Oak Glen, north Yucaipa, Mountain Home Village, Forest Falls, and Angelus Oaks to evacuate. Additionally, State Route 38 was closed while fire crews battled the blaze.

Caltrans’ Maintenance staff from Angelus Oaks and Fawnskin responded immediately to assist fire and law enforcement personnel with the closure of SR 38 between Mentone and Big Bear. Maintenance crews began 12-hour shifts, working around the clock for several weeks until the fire was contained to a level where residents and the public were allowed back on the road. Caltrans Management and Emergency Response teams attended daily coordinator meetings at the Incident Command Center. 

Due to record temperatures in the area and other prevailing weather conditions, the El Dorado Fire burned along SR 38 in both directions, resulting in widespread damage. District 8 personnel immediately began to assess the extent of the damage and determined that the following work was needed: slope stabilization, rock slope scaling, removal of debris and hazardous/burned trees, the clearing of culverts and inlet basins along the route, signage and guardrail repair, and replacement of drainage debris racks.

To start this work in a timely manner, District 8 issued a $3.5 million director’s order allowing repairs to begin Oct. 2. The district contracted with Riverside Construction Co. to repair the fire-related damages. All work is scheduled to be complete by spring 2021, depending on weather. District 8 is advising the traveling public that SR 38 may be subject to intermittent full closures during storm events due to the likelihood of debris flows. 

The contractor has been repairing shoulders and clearing culverts of debris. Caltrans maintenance crews will conduct a rock scaling operation to assist in repairs and prevent future debris falls in mid-November, with traffic controlled via flagging operation. Travelers were advised to use SR-330 and SR-18 to avoid delays.

Caltrans now has another battle ahead for the winter. The threat of debris flows after a significant wildland fire is one that not only involves Caltrans, but the communities that were affected by the fire and all the agencies who provide safety to residents and the traveling public.