It’s August in California, with our typical forecast for this time of year, “sunny with 100% chance of SMOKE!” Large forest fires are burning up and down the state. The smoke is inescapable.
I was in the Northern Sierra near Stirling City earlier in the week. Smoky there too.
Air quality is often terrible this time of year due to the wildfires. Lighting, drought, denser forests and changing fire fighting tactics have created conditions that foster massive wildfires. Resistance to harvesting timber on our federal forests has made it difficult to thin the National Forests. Thinning forests to reduce fuels isn’t being accomplished at the level that is needed. That in turn has caused the Forest Service to adopt a “manage the fire” approach to fire fighting. These fires burn at such higher intensity that the fire crews are forced to back way off in order to keep safe. Direct attack is nearly impossible. This makes the fires grow even bigger.
Drought is making our immediate problem much worse. Trinity Lake is somewhere back there.
Thinning these forests over large tracts of land would solve several problems. It reduces the amount of fuel that feeds these huge fires. It lowers the burn intensity of the fires making them easier to fight. Fewer trees on the landscape increases the ground and surface water by reducing demand on the water table. God knows we need more water in California. Trees have less competitive stress, which reduces tree mortality from drought and insect attack. With fewer weakened trees dying there is less dry, heavy fuel created in the form of snags and downed logs.
That snag is a lightening rod just waiting for a bolt.
In many ways were are loving these forests to death. The forests are set up to burn because we don’t want to manage them. Too many people don’t want any trees cut down. The conventional wisdom that “leaving the forest untouched” creates a healthy ecosystem is wrong. Would you not weed your garden? We are the stewards of these forests and it’s our responsibility to care for them. Otherwise, we are creating a forest of dead trees.
Looking toward the Trinity Alps.
This is how the view is on a clear day.
Bliss says after a smoky day in the woods there’s nothing like a dip in a cool mountain stream.
Looking across Indian Valley at a mountain thunderstorm. We’ve had many storms, already this year. Fortunately, they’ve been moisture laden. Dry lightening is a huge concern in the Sierra Nevada, especially in a dry year like this. Our long term weather prediction is for high thunderstorm activity in July and August. Hopefully, a healthy dose of rain goes with it.
A downpour coming across Lake Almanor.
Unfortunately, thunderstorms are so spotty when it comes to rain. As of yesterday “sleepers” started popping up all over Northern California. The sleepers are the smoldering lightning strikes that flare into a full blown fires when the temperatures rise and humidity falls.
Most of the lightning fires have already been extinguished by the fire services, but there are always a few that get away. Today we are suppose to reach 103 F in the valley and 108 F tomorrow. Despite the rain, it’s fire season in Northern California.
The anemometer measures the wind speed and direction.
California is into the fourth year of drought. Wildfire is on our minds in the natural resources community. Hazardous fire conditions are just around the corner and we are already preparing. The state and federal agencies have a system for predicting high fire hazard conditions, and tracking weather and fuel moisture is at the core of it.
A portable weather station.
We utilize local weather stations on our timber lands to get pin point fire weather conditions. Our research department installs them. Some of these stations are permanent and some are mobile. The mobile stations, like the one shown above, can be relocated as needed. We put these at active logging sites so we can measure accurate on site fire weather conditions.
The fuel moisture stick measures moisture content in forest fuels.
Years ago, we used mechanical anemometers to measure wind speed, and fuel moisture sticks weighed with a scale to measure fuel moisture. During the summer season, measurements were taken on the hour by someone on the logging crew. When conditions became severe enough, operations were shut down for the day.
With today’s technology, we have the ability to monitor conditions continuously and have the data transmitted to our office. Changes in fire conditions can be spotted in real-time and radioed to the logging crews. We can collect much more data with the new weather stations than ever before, and respond to changing condition accordingly.
The Ponderosa Fire.
The weather stations won’t eliminate wildfire, but they do assist the logging crews in avoiding being the cause.
A speed chopping contest between Oregon State University and Shasta College students. Logging sports like this were inspired by how it was once done.
Every time I see a news report where the reporter says loggers “chopped” down trees, I want to bang my head against the coffee table. Loggers haven’t chopped down trees since chainsaws took over the job in the 30’s and 40’s.
Using a chainsaw to limb a Ponderosa pine tree.
Chainsaws are still on every logging job, but now they share much of the tree falling duty with the feller bunchers. These machines look more like something from Star Wars. It’s not what most folks would expect on a logging job.
The disk on the front of the feller buncher is the saw blade. This type of saw head is called a “hot saw” because it runs constantly.
This machine is working on a fire salvage operation from last years wildfires. They cut trees all day long.
They grab the trees when they cut them. The trees are then stacked up in a “doodle” for the skidders to take to the log landing.
Life is a lot different for the loggers these days. Working in an air-condition cab is a world away for the days of axes and misery whips.
This tree shear is another example of tree cutting technology. Don’t worry, we let her go.
The King Fire devastated almost 98,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada, east of Sacramento. Our company lost 18,000 acres of forest. Lately, I’ve had opportunity to spend time in the burn area. There is a lot of work being done by our foresters, biologists, botanists, and others to protect the resources so the timber can be quickly salvaged in an environmentally sensible manner. Most people never get to see what is done to protect the soil, water, cultural resources, and wildlife. In the gallery are images of just some of the work being done.
Hundreds of millions of board feet of timber were killed in the King Fire. Once killed, the wood begins breaking down. It is a race to harvest the trees before their value is lost.
The fire started September 13th. So many organisms died during the fire, but life is beginning to return in sprouts of green.
All foresters are painters of a sort. Give them a can of spray paint and you’ll get instructions for the loggers all over the woods. These instructions are for the placement of rock in a rolling dip. The dip helps drain water from the road and the rock minimizes muddy water running off.
This was a young Ponderosa pine stand of trees lost in the fire.
Blue marks on these trees and blue flagging deliniate a stream protection zone. Even though there is currently no water in this little draw, equipment is restricted from it. This is to minimize soil disturbance next to a waterway.
ELZ means “equipment limitation zone.” These zones are used to keep equipment out of areas to avoid excessive soil disturbance.
Many roads in sensitive areas are rocked. This is done to avoid muddy runoff during the rainy periods.
Roads are rocked coming in and out of stream crossings. Bridges are often upgraded and culvert pipes are up sized to handle greater runoff, which is a common affect following large fires.
Patches of dead trees are left scattered in the burn. These trees provide habitat structure for cavity dwelling wildlife.
Archaeological sites identified in the burn area are protected.
The fire didn’t kill all the trees within the burn. We retain trees that will likely survive the fire damage. High risk trees are removed.
Skidding salvage logs to the landing.
A load of salvage logs roll through the tiny community of Georgetown.
There is a lot of preparation that has to be done prior to logging. It has taken a large team of resource professionals to get the job done on a project this size.
Just for children a picture book about wildfire and the forest rehabilitation that takes place after a fire. Check out, Firestorm In the Forest.
It’s day five! I was tagged to do the 3 pieces of art a day for 5 days, Art Challenge, by Mark Mitchell. This is the last post. The theme for today is “Story Books”, that I’ve illustrated I put up illustrations from three different books.
I would love to give everyone a break, so I’m not tagging anybody for the Art Challenge. If you want to do it, then tell me and I’ll tag you!
In this year of drought, our forests are a tinder box waiting for a spark. That spark came from the sky on the last day of July. It reached 108 F in the valley. A major lightning storm rolled across the North State and left numerous forest fires in its wake.
Looking east toward Burney. On the right is smoke from the Day Fire and on the right is the Bald Mountain Fire.
A huge thundercloud forms above the Bald Mountain Fire. Burney Mountain on the right, has a fire lookout on its peak.
The cloud above the fire continued to grow all day as the fire exploded in size. These clouds create erratic winds that cause the fire to spot.
The air tankers bombed the fires throughout the daylight hours. This S2 is on its way to the Coffee Fire.
More fires were burning to the west. This column was from the Coffee Creek Fire.
A new fire called the Eiler Fire took off on the second day. It’s was close to the Bald Mountain Fire. The two fires were threatening the town of Burney. From the valley in Anderson, we could see at least six major smoke columns in all directions.
The beginning of the week brought us a rare and very wet cold front. The rain helped the firefighters get a handle on many of the fires. The same storm created flash floods and mud slides in Southern California.
Wildfire sunsets are a silver lining.
Most of the east side fires are under control now, but several fires in the Klamath Mountains are still burning. We still have a long way to go to reach the end of fire season.
A late afternoon thunderstorm builds over the Trinity Alps.
Billowing thunderclouds built up over the Trinity Alps last Wednesday. It was an ominous teaser of desperately needed rain. Our summer thunderstorms are the double-edged sword of rain and lightning. What will it be, soothing rain for parched earth or forest fires? These storms usually cause more grief than relief. I think we’re caught between a rock and a hard place. It’s not as if we get to choose what we get anyway.
Today the monsoonal moisture has returned. We’re already hearing thunder to the south. It could be an interesting day today.