Wednesday, July 28, 2010

More On Fire

Sunday afternoon I watched some Bay Area Local News. KTVU the Fox affiliate, closed their 5PM Newscast with a Sierra Fire Update tease for their 10 O'clock News. After watching my Niche Sports (and MLB baseball) from 9AM until 4PM, I streamed KKOH 780AM to listen to the Kim Komando Show and to hear their Top of the Hour Fire News. At 4PM and again at 5PM they reported 10 fires in the greater Reno area for a combined acreage of 800 acres. Inexplicably, this included the Potato Fire near Bridgeport, far south of metro Reno, closer to Mono Lake.

I guess it's the "Weekend Radio Wasteland Effect" wherein radio stations are minimally staffed, and newspaper web guys are on call and not in touch with what passes for the Newsroom these days. I noticed the effect around 9:30PM when looking around the web for the latest fire news...reports are all over the place now...the Constantia Fire in Lassen County, reported to be 400 acres at noon, was reported to be 1700 acres at 7:30PM Checking with Reno's ABC TV affiliate, they report that down near Bridgeport, the Potato Fire was at 543 acres as of their Sunday 1AM post...Confusion may reign..or not.

I know I'm confused...while surfing for fire news I found a related story: "Official: Nevada wildfires behave differently than 10 years ago" Seven paragraphs in, it was revealed that the Official, "the chief of the US Forest Service" made the remarks back in April addressing a conference of wildfire experts in Reno.

My confusion began Saturday when I read: "no significant trend in Sierra snowfall since 1916" according to Dr John Christy of University of Alabama's Earth System Science Center.

Over the past 25 years, I've spent a fair amount of time out in the Sierra Bush, and I've noted an overall increase in exotic plants (read non-native invasive species), and increased fuel loads. I've heard a lot of belly aching about fuels reduction efforts being thwarted by environmental crusaders, and witnessed forest management "strategies" especially in subdivisions, that increase fuel loading to the ridiculous.

Every year, when Fire Season gets into full swing, invariably I'll see a "Fire Behavior Expert" look into the TV camera and say "We've never seen such extreme fire behavior" Every Fall, I get the feeling that I could set my watch by the fire behavior experts' remarks. I've been boring people in conversation about wildland fire with this nugget for a decade at least.

The Gap Fire was a genuine eye-opener for me, as it burned in two different National Forests...the El Dorado NF, and the Tahoe NF. The different post-fire outcomes were instructive. The El Dorado side of the fire zone was salvage logged quickly after the burn. The Tahoe NF side was never salvage logged, though I'm not sure weather the Salvage Sale was ever offered, or if lawsuits tied the sale up in court. Salvage logging must be done soon after a fire because timber is perishable once it's suffered fire damage. All the burned dead trees still stand on the Tahoe NF acreage of the Gap Fire, but they have a new name on the books...they're Fuel now.

They are unsightly, too. The next time you're headed East on Interstate 80 towards Reno or Truckee, pay attention as you head uphill from Nyack to Immigrant Gap. Look to your right and those dead trees standing tall are from the Gap Fire back in August of 2001. Nine years later they are waiting to become part of the next fire's "Extreme Fire Behavior" When it burns, and the Fire Behavior Expert du jour tells the TV reporter: "we've never seen such extreme fire behavior", I'll think about my watch, and about institutional memory...or maybe institutional blinders...

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