Tuesday , June 25 2024

A Week in Yosemite: Fighting fire with fire

In a fire season so busy it’s easy to lose count, it’s maybe not the best time to convince people that some fires are good.
But that job falls to Gary Wuchner, the Fire Information and Education Manager at Yosemite National Park.
He’s says starting prescribed burns is a way to protect forests and avoid larger fires.

"You know a lot of people don’t appreciate it, don’t get it," Wuchner says. "They don’t want any fire at any course."

Wuchner says that way of thinking has led to what we see today: devastating fires like Yosemite’s recent Rim Fire, a fire so massive it could be seen from space.

"255,000 acres total. 77,000 acres on park territory," Wuchner says. "Largest fire in history for the park."

The Rim Fire burned for more than a year, and cost more than $ 125 million dollars.
Now, Wuchner educates people on what makes for a healthy forest. He says a forest without fire is not healthy.

"From 1902 to 2003, there were no fires at all," Wuchner says. "Every fire was put out. And it put us in a situation where we have an overstocked forest."

Wuchner took us deep into what fire crews call a prescribed burn.
This fire stopped burning only weeks ago, and already Wuchner says the benefit is everywhere to see. The burn left a deep layer of charcoal and ash on the ground. When mixed with the dirt, it’s a nutrient rich plant food.
The other big benefit is less ground fuel, and less fuel means less intense fires.

"We lose some (trees), but we make it better for the bigger legacy trees," Wuchner says. "And it makes way for other species."

Wuchner says nature would have done this every 7 to 14 years.
It’s simple in theory, but planning a prescribed burn is just the opposite. Conditions have to be just right. Summer fire season, for example, is a no-no.
It’s a tough message, but Wuchner says it is getting out there, and he hopes one day a generation of people raised on Smokey the Bear are more comfortable with the idea of fighting fire with fire.

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