Cal Fire

About 50 Cal Fire personnel are doing prescribed burning Monday at Glory Hole Recreation Area at New Melones in cooperation with the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the New Melones site manager said.

The plan is to reduce ground-level fuels and non-native species like starthistle, on three sections of land between Angels Creek Road and Glory Hole Road, for a total of 95 acres, Cynthia Davenport with the Bureau of Reclamation said Monday morning in a phone interview, speaking from the Glory Hole area.

Davenport said she attended a briefing and watched Cal Fire personnel do some test burns before 10 a.m. The controlled burn operation is subject to prescribed wind and weather conditions. If winds or other variables increase significantly, the burn could be delayed or postponed to another date.

There were at least four fire engines on hand and plenty of water available, Davenport said.

The last uncontrolled fire Davenport said she could remember at New Melones was a car fire a few years ago out by Buck Brush Day Use Area, where someone drove in from Finnegan Lane and parked and some grass caught fire.

About two acres burned near Reynolds Ferry Road, the entrance road to Tuttletown Recreation Area off Highway 49 in Tuolumne County, in July 2019.

No road closures are planned. There will be traffic controls on Glory Hole and Angles Creek roads.

Reducing wildfire fuels, reducing invasive species, and enhancing existing chaparral/oak woodland habitat are the primary reasons for the prescribed burning at New Melones.

Smoke is likely during the New Melones burn and for several days after, federal Bureau of Reclamation staff said. Residents of Calaveras, Amador and Tuolumne counties may see or smell smoke, and experience smoky conditions during the burning. Residents near the project area are urged to keep doors and windows closed during burn periods.

On Friday last week, dry, breezy conditions with strengthening winds gusting to 15 miles per hour prompted the Cal Fire Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit to cancel another prescribed burn in Calaveras County that temporarily escaped the day before on Thursday.

Incident commanders and burn bosses decided to stop prescribed burning at the 2,300-acre PAWS Performing Animal Welfare Society off Pool Station Road outside the town of San Andreas.

Safety parameters for the prescribed burn Friday included a ceiling of up to 12 mph winds, and when winds began gusting higher than that, up to 15 mph, Battalion Chief Kevin Bohall of San Andreas, the incident commander, and his staff decided to cease burning for the day around 12:45 p.m.

No edges of the prescribed burn escaped Friday like the incident that happened Thursday, when temperatures were in the mid-90s, 20 degrees hotter than Friday. The escape happened around 2 p.m. Thursday and prompted a moderator of a social media group devoted to Tuolumne Calaveras Amador Fire, EMS, and Police to announce in capital letters, “They lost the control burn.”

Adam Frese, the Cal Fire Tuolumne Calaveras unit forester, described the escaped fire as slop-over that burned about two acres of grass and starthistle on private property bordering the west boundary of the 71.4-acre north burn unit. A bulldozer driver had to go through a fence to contain the escaped fire, Frese said. There was no other property damage. Cal Fire will fix the fence, Frese said. The property owner could not be reached for comment Friday.

“I want to stress we picked that up, and once it was contained we went back on the burn and continued operations,” Frese said Friday. “We got 85 percent of the north unit. In spite of the heat we were in prescription the whole day Thursday.”

Some people wonder why burn now, when it’s 80 degrees and hotter like Thursday, and when it’s breezy and windy like Friday? The answer includes the past five years of increasingly deadly and destructive megafires, and the need to burn off fuel early in the fire season before it gets even hotter and windier. Taking the initiative to manage volatile fuel loads every spring and summer when weather conditions permit is a responsibility for everyone living in flammable fire country like the Mother Lode.

Frese, Bohall and Ed Stewart, a co-founder of PAWS in 1984, all emphasized Friday that prescribed burning is critical right now in the early fire season. Reducing fuel and creating fuel-free buffer zones is a vital tool to reduce chances of another deadly, destructive megablaze like the 2015 Butte Fire that burned near San Andreas, and even deadlier firestorms like the 2018 Paradise Fire that killed more than 80 civilians and destroyed more than 18,000 structures.

Cal Fire command staff said they burned 52.9 acres Thursday and eight acres Friday for a two-day total of 60.9 acres. About 64 remaining acres on PAWS land will be burned in future.

 

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 770-0405. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

 

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