Report: Sierra fire danger is very high

By Alex MacLean, The Union Democrat November 19, 2013 11:30 am

About 68 percent of the Sierra Nevada falls into the “high and above” threat level for potentially large and damaging wildfires, a new Sierra Nevada Conservancy report says.

The report divided the entire Sierra Nevada into six subregions.

About 73 percent of the South Central subregion, which encompasses about 3.3 million acres and includes both Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, had a “high and above” fire threat.

The report cited a combination of factors contributing to the area’s “high” fire threat, including a warmer, drier climate and fuel accumulation from more than 100 years of human encroachment on wild lands and fire suppression.

The conservancy, a state agency that focuses on social, economic and environmental issues affecting 22 Sierra Nevada counties, based its report on data collected by Cal Fire.

The report was completed prior to the Rim Fire, which burned more than 402 square miles in the South Central subregion from August to October.

“The Rim Fire gives us an unfortunate real-life experience at the implications” of the fire threat addressed in the report, said Jim Branham, the conservancy’s executive officer.

Branham said the conservancy is working with environmentalists, timber industry representatives and others to identify forest-management practices that will reduce the threat of major blazes.

Reports that address the “extreme potential for summer wildfires” in the Sierra Nevada are useful tools for educating the public and attracting much-needed federal money for fire-prevention projects, like controlled burns, according to John Buckley, executive director of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center in Twain Harte.

“The Sierra Nevada region needs more funding and fuel reduction treatments if we’re going to begin catching up on a century of fuel accumulations across the middle and lower elevations of the forest,” he said. “It’s pivotal for the both the general public and agency decision makers to partner with Congress and find the dollars to do so much critical work.”