The Next Rim Fire?


The King Fire is experiencing growth like we saw in the Rim Fire, last year. There are important similarities but there is also a main difference. The fuels are much thicker in this more northern landscape. The fire behavior was so extreme that even the airtankers could not fly their missions. The south fork of the American River features a canyon that is steep, and over 2000 feet deep. The fire has been fought aggressively along Highway 50, with 1000’s of homes nestled into un-firesafe neighborhoods. Like most people, they seem to prefer their shade over fire safety. The fire has now burned about 50,000 acres in one 24 hour period and there is only 5% containment. A weak cold front approaches and will increase the winds, even more than they have been in the last two days. After the cold front blows through, there might be a change in the wind direction, too. There seems to be a new gap in the Sierra Nevada, where old growth is being incinerated. A drive up to south Tahoe along Highway 50 shows the now-interconnected wildfires in recent history. The Wrights Fire, the Pilliken Fire, the Cleveland Fire, the Freds Fire and now, the King Fire. Change has been very harsh upon the Highway 50 corridor.

When will Congress do “something” that is effective against wildfires?

35 thoughts on “The Next Rim Fire?”

  1. I worked on the Wrights Fire back in the 1980s, which is at a much higher elevation than the King Fire. I also worked (and lived) in the King Fire area. This fire is going to be huge, unfortunately.

  2. The important question that needs to be asked is when will the Forest Service take the lead and become proactive in addressing the need for bold active management of these precious resources.

    • That isn’t the problem, here in the Sierra Nevada. While there are some litigation issues with their thinning projects, under the Sierra Nevada Framework, the courts rarely block the ones that follow the rules, laws and policies. A few thousand acres of treatment per year isn’t going to cut it. The Forest Service needs a budget that can recruit, develop and retain expertise in the lower levels of their timber management staffs. Using the “Federal McForestry” of temporary employees isn’t going to get the jobs done. They need to be paid a “living wage”, rather than just the 1039 hours of work, each year.

      As I type this, I’ve been watching the busy woodpecker, working on the brain-dead bug tree across the street. This new bloom of bark beetles is starting to roll, with new patches popping up all over, where I live, just 30 miles from the edge of the Rim Fire.

    • Lyle- I don’t think the FS can be leaders, because they are part of the government and hence partisanization. It’s hard to keep a steady rein through time with fluctuating administrations. It seems to me the leadership must come from a coalition of both “sides” who are so strong it is easier for both parties to go along.

      But you have more experience on the political side of an agency than I do.. what do you think?

  3. The Forest Service can’t take the lead under current constraints of law. Period. The combination of unrestrained ESA associated with obsessive NEPA compliance renders the agency utterly static in the face of a dynamic landscape, dynamic environment and dynamic markets.
    Until the nonprofit left does enough damage and makes enough “progress” toward making America the biggest “nonprofit” on the planet, and only if voters react accordingly, nothing will change except a massive shrinkage in our range of options. Once it’s all black, game over.

  4. Congress is only a small part of the problem. The science of forestry and the management of forested lands is also adding to the issue. If you read the catalogs of the major Forestry Schools, they define the program as preparing the scientist to manage the resources from the forests rather than managing the forests for health, vigor and diversity. Forests are a mosaic of forest communities not vast acreage covered with trees. Until we recognize the need to understand the complexity of Nature, our forests, we will continue to allow profits to drive the decision process. We must intensify our management, get boots on the ground, and manage individual communities for health and vitality if we expect a better future. Forests products must become the by-[products of proper management, not the driving goal. The biggest thing we need from the Congress is the recognition that the solution is reduced paper work and increased time for the scientist to observe the complexity of our forests so as to understand the multitude of relationships that exist within each forest community, THE ABILITY TO READ THE LAND!

    • We do know enough to see how these big fires are worse for the forests than current management practices. We need to stop blaming the past, to block the future. This “whatever happens” policy hasn’t been working. There is very little prescribed fire happening, because of fuels and liability issues. Ranger Districts staffs are stripped to the bone, and most of the on-the-ground expertise now sits behind a desk, or is retired. What Congress seems to fear the most is “larger government”. Yes, even the far-right would accept rural economic collapse and forest destruction over “larger government”. So, it seems we have both extremes against a larger and costlier Forest Service that manages more land.

      Regarding “reading the land”, foresters have to do that, on-the-fly. As a timbermarker wielding the “death paint”, one has to look ahead and perceive what needs to be done, according to a complex marking prescription, to decide what that stand will look like and how it will function for the next several decades. Yes, of course, the Forest Service hires people right off the street to “learn” how to do this. No experience needed!

    • I have a friend that does green house inspections for tree diseases. I often use him as a resource to continue to educate myself. I can identify many tree diseases and walk power lines looking for 2 things. I look for proximity to the line and tree diseases. Most land owners have tree diseases that go unnoticed and never get any sort of management. I have yet to see a spruce tree without some varying stage of rhizosphera. IE: Their trees are left for dead as sunlight and moisture dry up and stress the trees allowing for insect and disease issues and even the most shade tolerant species fall over only to be replaced by invasive species. Due to the lack luster for hiring and maintaining some of the previous knowledge(organizations hiring 1 employee to replace 4 or not hiring at all). I continue to learn only though my own network of people and from what I read on my own time or from the conferences I pay for on my own dime. The forestry programs are not all to bad if you consider the number of “lack luster” individuals that don’t get a job in the industry anyways. Many cases allow for a 2 year degree in fire, obtain a 1039, and the 4 year college graduates are left in the smoke and not hired. How can we attempt to consider the 4 year colleges as a part of the problem until we consider a change in policy and move away from temporary fire season work into silvicultural practices that help to keep healthy forests fire resistant. I support the move away from reacting to a problem to a move to using preventive measures to control it, however; I tend to approach I come to a different cause of the problem. Agencies stuck in litigation, with both hands behind their back, haven’t the foresight to confront the problem and through loss of knowledge due to lack of training of a new replacement generation caused by budget crisis and generational knowledge gaps allowing the 4 year degree students to move on to other professions because families limit our abilities of obtaining many years of part time summer temporary work. Many wonder why their is a push to bring in external work when plenty of, well informed, students graduate from an SAF Certified Colleges. Simply put, they grow up, need a permanent income, and give up on forestry all together. I know my family has two foresters, me and my wife, and only one is currently working “with in the field” loosely defined. Sorry for the long run-on sentence but I felt it was needed.

    • Brian, that would be just keen if there wasn’t 17 trillion of debt. Who in the heck is going to PAY for all these boots to stomp around looking for byproducts, for Gosh sakes? I’m not going to pay you to ogle vegetation obsessively and endlessly, I want you to do “good enough” and maximize value. Not all of it has to be cashola, but there has to be explict as well as intrinsic value generated.

  5. Map: King Fire in California Burns Areas of Clearcuts, Tree Plantations (Source)

    “The King Fire near Sacramento, California has spread rapid, resulting in the evacuations of thousands. NASA’s Active Fire data picks up the fire clearly, and when viewed on Global Forest Watch, you can also see that much of the affected area is managed forests with a patchwork of clearcuts and tree plantations.”

    • Ironically, the fire is curving around the Sierra Pacific Industries lands, peppered with clearcuts. The big run was in an unbroken part of National Forest, following the Rubicon River, as you can see here:

      It is obviously a wind-driven event, with embers finding plenty of ignition points. There is spotting, up to three miles downrange, especially in bone-dry stream buffers, where fuels have been developing for many decades. This drought has created the perfect storm for mega-fires, which kill trees over 400 years old. Think about that, for a second. Those trees have survived through 400 years of frequent fires. I wonder what their lifespan would be in a pre-Man forest, which many people desire, above all.

      Yes, this is another man-caused fire but, it is still an important part of the “whatever happens” strategy. We can plan for it, or not.

  6. Hand wringing and fault finding don’t stop fire. And you can’t manage land by written protocols intended to describe the whole process because there is no flexibility to alter actions to meet the unintended consequence. Our laws are process driven. USFS has to follow the written plan or lose in court because there really is a litigant behind every tree, intent on stopping any action of man in the forests. Only Congress can change the law to allow the USFS more latitude to operate with far less time and effort directed at defending every action they propose under the insane planning and justification directions demanded by Congress and statute. Too many cooks spoiled the broth. And the problems are primarily in the “fly over” states and the urban dominated West. More people live in the urban environment in the West than east of the Rockies. All the land management votes lie in the heart of the urban residential areas. I wouldn’t hold my breath until there is a solution, if ever.

    The large trees are aesthetically pleasing and certainly a part of some forest progression which ends in the death of that tree or those trees. I would have to say that this is the time when that progression to death is happening. Is there loss? Who is to say? But evidently millions find solace in knowing that the trees were not logged, turned into products for man to use. The only people who decry the devastation either lived in a house now ashes, or had some interest in forest products. The rest go “tch tch”, and drive on by believing this could never happen to them. And it probably won’t. And Cabo was a great place to vacation. Here yesterday and gone today. Change is the constant.

    As for Dave Skinner’s economic evaluation, that evidently is the old paradigm and the new is that money doesn’t count because we can print that. There is apparently little interest in printing money to stem the tide of stand replacement fire on lands public and private. Winter will come, and the fires will go out. We will have wet periods in which there is much growth of fuels and dry periods when those fuels incinerate. Cough cough. It has been smokey in Oregon’s Willamette Valley for several weeks. My only consolation is that Eugene can’t blame it on farmers burning straw after harvesting grain and grass seed. We don’t do that anymore because Nike Track Town USA can’t have air quality issues that effect human performance. Maybe those all knowing ecologists will find a way to stop wildland fire from making smoke (Deception Fire has been burning for six weeks or more just east of Eugene in old growth on steep ground), because the smoke collects in that geographical sac that is the southern end of the Willamette Valley and the home to Eugene, and home to many perpetual litigants in the environmental sphere.

    A side note: Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland has announced they are no longer going to represent the indigent and poor in court as an outreach of the Law School. LCLS is a national leader in producing environmental lawyers, but the enrollment is down by 16% and there is no longer tuition money enough to fund the outreach to the poor. Unlike the Feds, LCLS does not have a printing press to make money. Is there now a paucity of jobs in the environmental law field, enough to cause a drop in students with a bent toward being an environmental lawyer? A portend?

  7. “A side note: Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland has announced they are no longer going to represent the indigent and poor in court as an outreach of the Law School. LCLS is a national leader in producing environmental lawyers, but the enrollment is down by 16% and there is no longer tuition money enough to fund the outreach to the poor. Unlike the Feds, LCLS does not have a printing press to make money. Is there now a paucity of jobs in the environmental law field, enough to cause a drop in students with a bent toward being an environmental lawyer? A portend?”

    Not quite accurate. LCLS is closing one out of, I believe, seven clinics they operate. Here’s info on their clinical program
    Law school enrollments are down nationwide, even for those producing tax and investment attorneys, it’s not logical to relate that to a specific lack of interest in environmental law:
    Actually, a “paucity of jobs in the environmental law field” is nothing new, it’s pretty much always been the case. But the need for legal services for low-income clients is indeed a big problem nationwide, as perhaps you were alluding to. The law school clinics are always maxed out for clients. I do pro bono work (it’s mostly family law) through the county legal aid office, as do most other attorneys I know, but it’s impossible to keep up with the demand.

  8. Official cause of this fire has just been updated: Arson.

    Weather forecast for today calls for wind gusts up to 30 mph.

    “When will Congress do ‘something’ that is effective against wildfires?”

    Seems like a rather silly question, especially since Larry also pointed out the fact that California is in the midst of a mega drought, the likes of which perhaps haven’t been experienced in centuries.

    I still remain entirely unconvinced that Congress, or anyone else for that matter, can “do something that’s effective against wildfires” given 30 mph winds, low humidities and mega, record drought.

    • Ummmm, just WHY can’t we treat more acres?!?!? Certainly, it isn’t all about litigation. The Sierra Nevada Framework supports thinning projects in court. It is also claimed that “analysis paralysis” is hampering work. I really don’t completely buy into that, either. Yes, the USFS does over-analyze but, they have gotten better at it and that issue really isn’t the bottleneck. Congress could earmark funds that go towards sustainable timber management staffs that include an expansion of the permanent workforce.

      And, yes, arson is a part of the “whatever happens” strategy, and could be considered “natural”. Besides, the fire is achieving the goal of having larger and more intense wildfires that people like Chad Hanson are clamoring for. Does it really matter, at this point, if it was arson or any other type of ignition? Of course, it is all or nothing for the preservationists, who refuse to consider the beneficial effects of economically-sensible thinning, using site-specific science. Strategic fuelbreaks also need to be a part of the plans, too. We have to give firefighters a chance to catch fires, instead of throwing up our hands, during this drought.

      If you haven’t looked at the comments sections in articles, there are less and less of the public embracing the “whatever happens” mindset. Ironically, it is the salvage litigators who are pushing for more large wildfires. Does anyone else see the profit motivation?

  9. Let me thump local land use planning and the real estate industry for encouraging those little lambs from building adjacent to and within the checkerboard of private land and the forests. The “urban interface” continues to squeeze our forests. Like the landslide in Oso, Washington, the loss of residences and structures is preventable when the risk is correctly assessed and not rewarded with hobby ranch tax breaks and exclusive community zoning. Forest management can decrease fire intensity but fires will always occur. Some things need to remain mutually exclusive.

    • The checkerboarded land within the Eldorado NF surely isn’t anywhere near “urban”. Yes, some homes have now been found to be burned up but, they are more isolated in one of those non-SPI sections of checkerboarded lands. In the case of both the Rim Fire and the King Fire, your accusations do not ring true. I think you will find that counties cannot and will not regulate every piece of land under their responsibility. No, counties (like those in the Tahoe Basin) won’t be calling for the removal of homes to match your concern about “urban” issues. Yes, CalFire and the Forest Service have been spending a lot of money ( 5 million dollars per day) to keep the fire away from Pollock Pines and 12,000 homes but, zoning would not have affected that situation significantly, since most of those homes were built in the last millennium. The firefighters did very well in holding the south end of the fire, under very difficult conditions.

      • Sorry, Anita, but the “homes in interface” is really a false narrative, basically, don’t build in the WUI because when the fires escape and come steaming over the ridge, we don’t want to be responsible for our irresponsibility in managing fuels down to reasonable levels of intensity.
        By now, with all that fancy mapping and imaging, the science of fire behavior should be darn well established. Prevailing winds, moisture trends, all of it — “Where is this stuff mostly likely to blow and go, and what would be the consequences?” Or, “Would a fire here be catastrophic and uncontrollable, or is it likely to be of less-than-total immolation, with a good proportion of the wood subject to timely salvage in order to capture some replanting dollars?”
        Why the heck do I feel like such a dinosaur? Why aren’t forestry leaders articulating these questions in the public sphere?

    • Anita, I am a former resident of Pollock Pines. I moved there in the 80’s for work with the Forest Service at the nursery in Apple Hill. I moved from Bend, Oregon, from a house that cost $50 K. It took my husband and I months to get over the fact that we would have to pay 100K to get a house within commuting distance of work.

      I will never complain about my compensation (because many many folks there lived on much less), but we moved to Pollock Pines because I couldn’t afford to live closer to Placerville (or the houses would have been less desirable for the same price). It seemed like our neighborhood near Pollock Pines was originally intended to be second homes but as El Dorado Hills and other spots got more expensive many folks moved up the hill for their permanent homes.

      Pollock Pines, even when I left, was not “hobby ranches” nor “exclusive communities”. Like I said many folks lived there because it was cheaper than down the hill. As I recall, the end of the houses was pretty close to the start of the NF land. So we are talking about potentially moving people out, not “keeping people from building where they shouldn’t.”


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