By GENEVIEVE BOOKWALTER
More than a year after the Darby Fire torched about 10,700 acres on Stanislaus National Forest, forest officials have finished the analysis needed to let loggers begin cutting the dead, burned trees.
The Darby Fire began Sept. 5, 2001, and charred 14,200 acres in all on public and private land southwest of Arnold. Twenty-one days and $25 million later, the flames were controlled.
Salvaging the blackened timber, however, has been another story.
Six months after the fire was out, Sierra Pacific Industries began salvage logging and reforestation on its own property.
Many loggers, however, watched in frustration as adjacent national forest land sat untouched.
Stanislaus Forest officials instead worked methodically on the detailed environmental impact statement and record of decision required by federal law before saw can touch tree.
Those reports were finally released Monday.
After a 45-day public comment session and anticipated appeals, forest officials said they expect the Brown Darby Fuel Reduction Project to hit the auction block in mid-March. Public comment on the sale will end Jan. 30.
Forest officials said they expect to offer about 11 million board-feet of timber for sale enough wood to build about 730 homes.
It takes about 15,000 board-feet of timber to build a three-bedroom house.
The project also includes mechanical thinning, prescribed burning, shredding and brush reduction to reduce fire fuels and help protect Arnold and Avery from a catastrophic blaze.
The salvage sale is the biggest offered on the forest since the 1996 Ackerson Fire, which put 36.3 million board-feet of timber on the block.
Detailed analyses of the Darby Fire site took more than a year to prepare, a span Acting Stanislaus Forest Supervisor Glenn Gottschall called "timely."
But Mike Albrecht, president of Sonora's Sierra Resource Management, said it took far too long.
"Enough wood to build 670 homes was left behind there to rot," Albrecht said.