Throwback Thursday Hits NCFP!

After the “Siege of 1987”, and 43 wildfires on the Hat Creek Ranger District, in three days, the Lost Fire burned up this forest up on the Hat Creek Rim. Even without terrain effects, this fire raged through the forest incinerating everything in its path. There is an eerie beauty in this picture, reminiscent of an Ansel Adams monochrome image.

high-intensity-burn-web

Today, those forests are growing back, after a big reforestation program, and it appears, a subsequent thinning. Here is a Google Maps view of that area today.

https://www.google.com/maps/@40.8027893,-121.4002792,862m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

Already this summer, there has been 3 large wildfires on this Ranger District. It is mostly a dry “eastside pine” forest, requiring trees to be thinned and crowns separated. It appears that the Forest Service is finally seeing that early thinning is key to restoring forests. In the past, it always appeared that they were “gambling” on waiting for the trees to get bigger (and more profitable), before managing their plantations.

6 Comments

  1. Larry, a few questions… what’s the dominant species here, is it Ponderosa? I can’t tell but it kind of doesn’t look like it (from remaining foliage, but again I can’t really tell). How would you rate the stand density here, in the foreground at least it doesn’t seem especially dense? Though maybe it is for the very dry conditions. And just a comment, it doesn’t look like ground fuel load played much of a role here? (as there doesn’t seem to have been much of any, unless it was totally incinerated). Just wondering the latter, as in some of the MPB controversies there’s a lot of argument about relative significance of crown fires (which may actually be less likely several years post-beetle) vs ground-fuel-based fires (which are argued to be more likely and intense). thanks, -gk

    • It is a mixture of both ponderosa pine and jeffrey pine. I’m not sure of the previous history here but, it is obvious that this is a plantation. My guess, since this whole area was about the same age, is that there was a previous wildfire, and not one giant clearcut. Yes, it is a very dry site, being in the rainshadow of the mountains to the west. I also don’t think that ground fuels played much a part in this, either. Yes, 1987 was a very dry year, and firefighter tactics did play a big role. The Lost Fire started in the lava beds in the Hat Creek Valley, and firefighters wanted the brush in there to burn. Twice they lost it, and once the fire burned up to the Hat Creek Rim, it didn’t take much for the crown fire to rage through this forest. I had a “marvelous” view of the fire, while working on another fire high in the Wilderness to the west of Hat Creek Valley. There were even unscorched trees that were, essentially, “cooked”. I think we can “relatively” conclude that this crown fire was “catastrophic”, eh?

      Luckily, I’ve seen a lot more recent thinning of plantations, post-fire, or not.

  2. I’d say it looks pretty “dense.” Looks to me like it was maybe “pre-commercial” thinned 30 some years before…and was just about ready for it’s first commercial thinning. Would love to sink a bore into a few of them. To be effective against crown fires…a ponderosa stand has to have 25′ spacing(75 TPA). 25′ spacing looks like a lot visually…frankly kinda shocking to a landowner who wants to fire proof his lot…which leads to half measures…or no measure at all. Had a USFS Silva-guy tell me once, “if I just wanted to maximize per acre yield, I’d leave a 15′ spacing (for that particular age class). I’m guessing that a lot of the “industrial lands” in Cali…feel the same way. They’re maximizing yield..not worried about fire proofing their entire land holdings…and hey, they get to salvage it anyway.

    • I’m guessing that the annual precipitation 20-24″, being in the rainshadow of the southern Cascades. Nearby Burney often has very cold temperatures, despite being below 4000 feet. The elevation in the picture is probably around 4500 feet. Much of the Hat Creek Rim is Forest Service, and this picture was representative of those forests. Yes, there were thinning projects planned, with one almost ready to sell, before the fire came.

      During the Siege of 1987, I was pressed into service as the local Fire Camp Manager, despite my lack of training and being a temporary employee. I saw a pair of buses come into fire camp and two West Virginia hand crews had arrived, gawking at both the huge, fat jeffrey pines, and the giant mushroom cloud rising from the Lost Fire. After two days, I was replaced by someone who traveled 1000 miles. The 100’s of lightning fires in northern California (and Oregon) burned for weeks.

      It is inevitable that we’ll have another similar lightning bust, like in 1987. There was a similar event in 2007.

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