In the NY Times on January 5 (I’m a subscriber). Excerpt:
When the Bootleg fire tore through a nature reserve in Oregon this summer, the destruction varied in different areas. Researchers say forest management methods, including controlled burns, were a big factor.
SILVER LAKE, Ore. — When a monster of a wildfire whipped into the Sycan Marsh Preserve here in south-central Oregon in July, Katie Sauerbrey feared the worst.
Ms. Sauerbrey, a fire manager for The Nature Conservancy, the conservation group that owns the 30,000-acre preserve, was in charge of a crew helping to fight the blaze — the Bootleg fire, one of the largest in a summer of extreme heat and dryness in the West — and protect a research station on the property.
Watching the fire, which had already rapidly burned through thousands of acres of adjacent national forest, she saw a shocking sight: Flames 200 feet high were coming over a nearby ridge. “I said, OK, there’s nothing we can do,” she recalled.
But as the fire got closer, it changed dramatically, Ms. Sauerbrey said. “It had gone from the most extreme fire behavior I had ever seen in my career to seeing four-foot flame lengths moving through the stand.” While the fire kept burning through the forest, its lower intensity spared many trees, and the station survived.
Firefighters describe this kind of change in behavior as a fire “dropping down,” shifting from one with intense flames that spread quickly from tree crown to tree crown to a lower-level burn that is less dangerous. There are various reasons this can happen, including localized changes in winds, moisture, tree types and topography.
But for Ms. Sauerbrey and her colleagues with The Nature Conservancy, what she witnessed was most likely a real-life example of what they and others have been studying for years: how thinning of trees in overgrown forests, combined with prescribed, or controlled, burns of accumulated dead vegetation on the forest floor, can help achieve the goal of reducing the intensity of wildfires by removing much of the fuel that feeds them.