Photo Gallery: Bubonic plague closes campgrounds
WRIGHTWOOD - Campgrounds near the Mountain High Ski Resort here have been closed after a dead squirrel tested positive for bubonic plague.
In addition to the San Gabriel Mountains, authorities are also investigating other such areas as Big Bear Lake, Lake Arrowhead and Running Springs in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Los Angeles County public health and U.S. Forestry Service officials on Wednesday closed the Broken Blade, Twisted Arrow and Pima Loops of the Table Mountain Campgrounds in the Angeles National Forest. The sites will be closed for at least seven days.
"We don't want to alarm anyone, but we're doing our own surveys at Wrightwood campgrounds and surrounding areas," said Corwin Porter, chief of the San Bernardino County Environmental Health Services Division.
"We just learned of the discovery Wednesday so we're taking every precaution necessary to protect everyone," Porter said. "The last time the plague was detected in San Bernardino County was in 2001."
The plague bacteria is carried by infected fleas. On Thursday, pest-control workers from the Office of the Los Angeles County Agricultural Commissioner were busy dusting squirrel holes in the snowboard pipe area of the Mountain High North resort.
Despite the clearance of campgrounds, a group of friends from the High Desert came up to Wrightwood to play a game of frisbee golf on a course where plague warning signs had been posted.
"I've been in these mountains for 20-something years now," said Jim McGarry. "It shouldn't be a problem. Just don't feed the squirrels or don't play with them."
Keenan Challacomb said the situation could become a concern "if some kids start playing with squirrels, they could be singing 'Ring around the Rosy,' but hopefully that doesn't happen."
"Hopefully, we can inform everybody and let them know what's going on out here and get it taken care of," Challacomb said.
As mosquitoes buzzed by and rattlesnakes rested in the grass, McGarry added, "We've got bird flu, Lyme disease from the deer ticks, and bubonic plague from the fleas. It's a cornucopia."
Plague has been known to reside in the ground squirrel population in the San Gabriel Mountains. Previous surveillance identified one plague-positive ground squirrel from the Los Alamos campgrounds in Gorman in 2010. Another was found in 2007 and two in 1996 from the Stoneyvale Picnic Area near La Cañada Flintridge. A plague-positive ground squirrel was found in a Vogel Flats campground in 1995.
Standard protocol, officials said, is to close down a campground where an infected squirrel is found for about a week. Squirrel and chipmunk holes are dusted with a product called Delta Dust.
People visiting recreational areas near the Broken Blade, Twisted Arrow and Pima Loops of the Table Mountain Campgrounds should not feed wild animals, leave edible trash out where wild animals can get to it, or camp or picnic near ground squirrel burrows, officials say. They should also avoid taking pets into the area.
Visitors are encouraged to use insect repellent containing DEET.
For more information or to report a dead squirrel in Los Angeles County, call 626-430-5450. The number for San Bernardino County Vector Control is 800-44ABATE.
Staff Writer Doug Saunders contributed to this report.