Federal and State investigators continue to look for a cause of the fire that burned the Schulman Grove Visitor Center to the ground. The Schulman Visitor center is a popular stop for visitors who make the drive high into the White Mountains to view the ancient bristlecone pines.
The fire was spotted by a White Mountain Research Station employee at about 7:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, but Nancy Upham with the Forest Service reports that the visitor center was pretty much gone by then. Volunteer Fire Fighters from Big Pine and Bishop put the fire out, but at last report it was unknown how long the building had burned before the fire was called in.
Fire investigators are expected to be able to determine when the fire started and what caused the blaze. The visitor center is not tied into the grid, instead electricity is provided by solar panels and a back up generator. In the colder months, the visitor center has a kerosene heater, but staff had not yet used the heater this season.
Nobody was injured in the blaze. Upham says the now destroyed visitor center is a tremendous loss. Three bristlecone pines were killed by the fire, though Upham says the trees were young, at least in relation to some of the other bristlecone pines in the area that can be thousands of years old.
Unlike a private homeowner, Upham explained that the Forest Service did not have insurance on the visitor center. Instead the Federal Government pays for replacement.
Upham could not say whether the fire started under suspicious circumstances or not. She did say that investigations will continue into the cause. Inyo Sheriff investigators were on scene on Wednesday interviewing potential witnesses. A state fire marshal and Forest Service fire investigator were called in to look for a fire cause as well.