Federal custodians of the Stanislaus National Forest are planning to do a prescribed burn during fire season -- the Bear Mountain Underburn east of Groveland -- starting as soon as next week.
Communications staff and burn bosses anticipate there may be residents who are concerned, and they want to share how they are planning for a safe prescribed fire.
The plan is to use low-intensity fire to burn about 35 acres each evening for four to six days between mid-August to late September, depending on weather conditions, for an eventual total of 151 acres burned, about 22 miles east of Groveland on slopes near 5,300-foot Bear Mountain and 5,250-foot Ackerson Mountain, near Evergreen Road and south of Hetch Hetchy.
The burn area is also described as being close to Forest Road 1S03, which on its west end connects to Highway 120 near Harden Flat. The east end of Forest Road 1S03 is where the prescribed burn is planned.
Controlled burning is expected to last four to six days, burn planners said in a statement. Burning will be contingent on weather, fuel moisture, and air quality. Burning is monitored and conducted within county and state air quality guidelines, and coordinated with local county air quality control districts.
Smoke will likely be visible from Evergreen Road and maybe from Highway 120, with down-canyon drift smoke possible in evenings and early mornings in the Middle Fork Tuolumne and the South Fork Tuolumne drainages.
The plan to burn in the evenings is because temperatures will be lower, Beck Johnson, acting fire management officer for the Stanislaus National Forest, said in a phone interview.
“We have a burn prescription we have to follow,” said Johnson, whose radio call sign is Chief One. “We have to follow the burn plan. The prescription is based on fire behavior, weather conditions, smoke transport and fuel conditions. Burning at night allows us to stay within our prescription and meet our prescribed burn objectives.”
They’re calling it a broadcast underburn, intended to reduce buildup of flammable forest fuels, including ground fuels and ladder fuels, to reduce threats of uncontrolled, large, damaging fires, and to improve protection of life and property in Evergreen, Camp Mather, the Peach Growers tract, and adjacent private land.
Other goals of the underburn are to enhance and protect wildlife habitat, including improvement of deer browse, which is defined as leaves, twigs, and buds of woody plants deer eat.
Furthermore, the prescribed fire is intended to protect the entire Tuolumne River watershed, including campgrounds, forest and private infrastructure, to promote health and resiliency in mixed conifer forest, and to reduce vulnerability to future insect and disease occurrences and drought.
Prescribed fires have grown out of control before elsewhere in California, and they have caused property damage and deaths in other states, but no one with the Stanislaus National Forest can remember the same thing happening here.
In May this year, a civilian wildlife biologist died during a prescribed burn on Fort Jackson Army Base in South Carolina. In March 2015, a prescribed fire in Mojave Narrows Regional Park grew to a 70-acre wildfire that prompted evacuation of 25 homes and destroyed a Humvee between Apple Valley and Victorville in San Bernardino County. Also in March 2015, high winds and heat restarted a burn believed to be out in Red Lodge, Montana, and forced hundreds of skiers to evacuate a ski area.
In March 2012, a controlled burn ignited by the Colorado State Forest Service in overgrown forest went bad near the Lower North Fork Platte River, about 40 miles outside Denver. Warm temperatures and high winds whipped flames that burned 1,400 acres, left three people dead, and destroyed 27 homes. In the year 2000, the prescribed Cerro Grande fire near Los Alamos, New Mexico, destroyed more than 400 homes and housing units, according to FEMA.
Staff with the Stanislaus National Forest emphasize in summary that prescribed burning is an effective, cost-efficient way to reduce flammable forest fuels, improve firefighting capabilities, and reduce impacts of large, uncontrolled, damaging wildfires.
Contact Guy McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.