By Becky Clark
A lost hiker was rescued early Wednesday from the San Jacinto State Park Wilderness but not before starting a signal fire that got out of control. At 10:07 p.m. Tuesday, July 1, Riverside County Sheriff’s deputies from the Cabazon Station responded to the Palm Springs Tram. James Jeselson, 46, of New York and two other hikers in his party started a day hike at 2 p.m. at the top of the Palm Springs Tram.
“An hour into his hike, Jeselson separated from the other two hikers in his party because they chose to take separate trails. No one in the hiking party was equipped for an extended hike, which would include proper hiking clothing, extra water or wilderness maps,” wrote Sgt. John Shulda in a press release.
About 8 p.m. when Jeselson did not return to the tram area, his hiking party called 911. Deputies, along with members of the Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit, searched the area. The California Highway Patrol provided air support for the mission, but clouds hampered the effort.
At 2:35 a.m., RMRU located Jeselson in the Little Round Valley area. Jeselson had started a signal fire; however, the fire spread beyond his control. The U.S. Forest Service was dispatched to handle the fire, which was fortunately limited to a small area. RMRU personnel escorted Jeselson back to the upper tram station where they remained until the first tram brought them down the hill at 6:30 a.m. USFS Helitack Crew 535 contained the blaze, named the Cornell Fire, to a 20-foot-by-50-foot spot, according to USFS Fire Chief Dan Felix. Ryan Carver is the incident commander. Even though the area is state land, it is a Forest Service Direct Protection Area.
“Reimbursement for fire suppression and restoration costs will be an option considered once the investigation is completed,” said USFS Public Information Officer John Miller.
“The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department would like to remind hiking enthusiasts to carry suitable equipment for any outdoor excursion. Proper preparedness includes a well thought-out plan shared with friends or family, adequate food and water, as well as proper hiking equipment, and maps or GPS equipment. RMRU offers several helpful, lifesaving tips at www.rmru.org.”