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Prescribed fire restoration site helped curb an August wildfire

Posted by Renee Magyar on September 12, 2014

The Five Cent prescribed burn restoration site in northern California helped moderate the August 2014 Oregon Fire.

Oregon-Fire_Weaverville_600
Image by Tim Ritchey, US Forest Service, and Bill Gabbert, WildfireToday.com

The 2014 fire season is still well underway, and our partners in Weaverville, CA experienced a close call at the end of August. Weaverville is a small community of 3600 people at the southern edge of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in northern California, about 30 miles west of Redding, along Highway 299. On August 24, a minor highway event turned into a 4-day fire, with flames spreading east toward the town. 

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported 580 acres burned in the Oregon Fire, named after nearby Oregon Mountain. While this is a small fire relative to the trend of larger fires we’ve been seeing, it burned dangerously close to the town of Weaverville. 

Nick Goulette, Executive Director of The Watershed Research and Training Center (WRTC) in nearby Hayfork, lives very near where the fire burned. “I’ve been evacuated before, had fire visible on the hillside above my home for over a month in 2008, but this was a different threat. Flashy fuels, fast moving, and my home was less than a mile downwind.”

The WRTC is working to reduce the threat of wildfire and boost Hayfork’s economy by creating jobs and a culture of land stewardship. Among their education and restoration programs, they are conducting careful prescribed burning of grasses and undergrowth that, if left to grow wild without fire, can add fuel to uncharacteristic wildfires – where wildfire creates long-term damage to forests by burning in the crowns of trees instead of along the ground. 

The 73 acre Five Cent prescribed burn was a restoration site implemented by the US Forest Service with the help of the local Weaverville Volunteer Fire Department, just like similar burns WRTC has been planning and implementing around the county. When the Oregon Fire reached this location, the flames dropped to the ground and were more manageable for firefighters. 

Goulette toured the restoration site after the fire. “You’ll never see clearer evidence that prescribed fires work to mitigate wildfire. The flaming front dropped to the ground after storming through the canopy. To the left, nearly everything is killed. To the right, within the prescribed burn, live forest and woodland, healthier for having had its dose of good fire”

Forest advocates agree there is a need to increase the pace and scale of restoration of our national forests, and this is more evidence that practices like prescribed fire can help reduce extreme wildfire, and the threat it poses to our rural towns, and the impact it has on our air, water, and changing climate

Read more about Nick Goulette’s experience with the Oregon Fire, and what the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network is doing to establish more fire adapted communities.