With containment holding on the now slow-growing Rim Fire, biologists and other experts are working on land and animal recovery.
Total acreage burned has reached 255,858, up 298 acres in 24-hours. Containment continued to hold at 80 percent as of this morning.
Weather has been more cooperative over the past few days and is forecast to remain so next week, with lower temperatures and higher humidity, according to the National Weather Service. High temperatures will peak Saturday at 90 degrees before dropping to the mid-80s through the rest of next week.
A Burned Area Emergency Response crew from the U.S. Interagency Fire Response Team, leading the firefight, began work this week on second-stage fire-area recovery, primarily focused on watershed management.
This team followed a fire suppression repair team, which works on immediate repair and minimization of damages from direct fire suppression activities like bulldozer and hand crew lines.
The BAER team of 75 specialists hopes to complete a burn severity map by Monday. The map is key to assessing potential watershed impacts, according to Kathleen Thompson, BAER team spokeswoman.
Roy Bridgman, wildlife biologist for the Groveland Ranger District, was assigned to the Rim Fire soon after it started and advised fire crews setting lines on how to minimize environmental impacts before surveying wildlife in the fire area.
Bridgman was cautiously optimistic about recovery in an interview Thursday, citing the “mosaic” burn of the Rim Fire area, which has left many islands of vegetation intact or minimally-damaged.
Very few animal bodies have been found, he said.
“The fire wasn’t racing up the slope faster than animals could get away,” he said, adding he was surprised to see as many squirrels in the trees as he did during his latest surveys.
However, he noted, “Mature habitat species didn’t do so well.”
Marginalized animals such as goshawks, spotted owls and great gray owl lost much of their habitat.
However, great gray owls actually experienced a population boom after the 1987 Stanislaus Complex Fire, Bridgman said, explaining that fire areas tend to encourage growth of meadows, prime hunting grounds for these birds.
Bridgman participated in one of the few immediate wildlife recovery projects undertaken thus far — a man-made pool for turtles.
He and a team went to an area between Cherry Lake and Camp Mather where tagged turtles congregated after the Complex Fire.
The team found 17 turtles in a dried-out pool bed. They returned a few days later with 75 gallons of water in a plastic liner, plants and trees to construct the turtle oasis.
Only one turtle was found when they returned, but Bridgman said the turtles of the area have adapted to seasons of minimal water and have moved on or taken shelter nearby underground.
Most wildlife species will simply fan out, Bridgman said, making use of the remaining islands and other nearby habitats, but will have stressed food supplies.
“Don’t be worried about bears or mountain lions,” he said, because “they are simply not interested in humans.”
The third, final and longest stage of restoration, called long-term recovery and restoration, may begin as early as next week, and the first two teams will continue to work up to weeks beyond that.