SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

August 28, 2013

Squelching fires left Sierra ready to burn

GROVELAND, Calif. — Unnaturally long intervals between wildfires and years of drought primed the Sierra Nevada for the explosive conflagration chewing up the rugged landscape on the edge of Yosemite National Park, forestry experts say.

The fire had ravaged 282 square miles by yesterday, the biggest in the Sierra’s recorded history and one of the largest on record in California.

Containment increased to 20 percent, but the number of destroyed structures rose to 101 and some 4,500 structures remained threatened. The types of lost buildings were not specified. Firefighters were making stands at Tuolumne City and other mountain communities.

The blaze was just 40 acres when it was discovered near a road in Stanislaus National Forest on Aug. 17, but firefighters had no chance of stopping it in the early days.

Fueled by thick forest floor vegetation in steep river canyons, it exploded to 10,000 acres 36 hours later, then to 54,000 acres and 105,620 acres within the next two days. On its 11th day, it had surpassed 179,400 acres, becoming the seventh-largest California wildfire in records dating to 1932.

Federal forest ecologists say that historic policies of fire suppression to protect Sierra timber interests left a century’s worth of fuel in the fire’s path.

“That’s called making the woodpile bigger,” said Hugh Safford, an ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service in California.

Two years of drought and a constant slow warming across the Sierra Nevada also worked to turn the Rim Fire into an inferno. For years, forest ecologists have warned that Western wildfires will only get worse.

“Every year, the summer temperatures are a little warmer; hence, the conditions for burning are a little more auspicious,” said Safford. “People can deny it all they want, but it’s happening. Every year, the fuels are a little bit drier.”

The Rim Fire’s exponential growth slowed only after hitting areas that had burned in the past two decades, and Safford says that shows the utility of prescribed and natural burns that clear brush and allow wildfires to move rapidly without killing trees.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Nation/World

Local News
  • 140724_SN_DLE_GRIFFIN6 Peabody's new police chief receives upbeat welcome PEABODY -- More than 100 family, friends, well-wishers, city officials and police officers lined Wiggin Auditorium in City Hall yesterday afternoon to applaud the swearing in of former Salem Capt. Thomas Griffin as the city's new police chief. "Today

    July 24, 2014 8 Photos

  • Guilty verdicts in probation trial

    July 24, 2014

  • Ex-Market Basket boss wants to buy company

    July 24, 2014

  • Court finds Danvers nursing home at fault DANVERS -- The estate of an elderly woman who died after a fall and weeks of neglect at a Danvers nursing home has won a $14.5 million verdict in a wrongful death and negligence case. A Middlesex Superior Court jury awarded the estate of Genevieve Ca

    July 24, 2014

  • chism2 [Duplicate] Chism arraigned in second attack

    BOSTON -- When the woman came out of the bathroom, accused murderer Philip Chism was standing a foot in front of her. He put his hands around the clinician's neck, started choking her and pushed her up against a cinder block wall, a prosecutor said.

    July 24, 2014 3 Photos 7 Stories