Fight fire with fire to protect California redwoods

LOS ANGELES – As the flames progressed toward Sequoia National Park’s iconic grove of tall, historic trees, firefighters fought the blaze with fire on Thursday.

The use of gunnery operations to burn off flammable vegetation and other material before the wildfire arrives in the Giant Forest is considered one of the many methods that firefighters can use their nemesis as a device to stop, slow down or redirect fires.

The tactic carries appreciable dangers if situations change. But it is commonly used to protect communities, properties, or useful resources currently threatened by fires, as well as the grove of about 2,000 large redwoods, as well as the General Sherman Tree, the world’s largest in quantity.

Here is how it works:

It’s all in the gas

Three issues affect the speed and speed with which a fire burns: the panorama, with the fire burning earlier on steep slopes; climate, with winds and dry conditions fanning the flames; and gas, the amount of tissue that can burn.

The first two can’t be controlled, but there are ways to cut back on fuels long before a fire breaks out – and even when one approaches.

“Of all the things that affect fire behavior, fuels are really where we can act,” said Maureen Kennedy, professor of wildfire ecology at the University of Washington.

Firefighters cover an indication with a fire resistant sheet in Sequoia National Park, California.
Service / Handout at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park via REUTERS

Historically, low to moderate severity fires every 5 to 30 years burned more brush and wood earlier than fatal fires in the early 20th century led to aggressive firefighting and US Forest blanket coverage. Service to suppress all fires before 10 am the day after they appear. have been reported.

This led to dense forests of unnecessary trees, fallen logs and overgrown brush that accumulated over the previous century, fueling very large fires.

Slow down fire by creating fire

For centuries, Native Americans have used fire to raze forests.

Prescribed fires set under favorable climatic conditions can help mimic the low intensity fires of previous ones and burn additional fuels when they do not appear likely to get out of control. If the fire ultimately burns the kingdom, it can undoubtedly do so at a shallower depth and with much less injury.

Crews used aluminum blankets on the General Sherman Tree to keep the historic redwood from getting too hot.
Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon Facebook

Thinking is similar throughout a forest fire. Fire chiefs are trying to make the most of changing winds or altered landscapes to burn a space out sooner than the fire gets there, robbing it of the gas it wants to maintain.

“They are trying to achieve the same effect,” Kennedy said. “They are trying to moderate the behavior of the fire. They are trying to eliminate the fuels that make the fire burn so intensely. Of course, their goal there is to better contain and control the fire and protect the most valuable resources. “

Safely setting delicate fires

All wildland firefighters study burnout operations as part of fundamental coaching, but surely one needs to take the next step of coaching to plan and perform shooting operations.

“You have to know how to fight the fire before you start the fire,” said Paul Broyles, former chief of fire operations for the National Park Service.

Burning a gap between the fire entrance and a projected level – reminiscent of a firebreak or the giant forest of Sequoia – requires the right situations and enough time to complete the burnout before the fire hits a line of fire. built by firefighters.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park in California.
Fire chiefs would burn smaller areas of Sequoia Canyon National Park to prevent larger fires from progressing.
Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon Facebook

Often times, such operations are carried out in the evening, when fires tend to go out or slow down as temperatures cool and humidity increases.

Convection of a fire attracts winds from all paths, which can help. As fires climb over steep terrain, burnouts usually occur on the opposite side of a ridge, so embers land in a space where dry grass and brush has already burned.

Shooting operations require a team making sure the fire does not go the wrong way. They can also be bulldozers cutting fire trails or tankers dropping retarder to further slow the flames.

It all has to work in sync, Broyles said.

“Tankers by themselves don’t put out fires unless you follow along with the staff,” he said. “It’s like the army. You don’t just bomb your enemy’s hell without ground troops.

Although burnouts are generally used, they will backfire if the winds change or if they are not ignited early enough.

“When you put more fire on the ground, there is a risk,” said Rebecca Paterson, spokesperson for Sequoia National Park. “It has the potential to create more problems than it solves.”

Broyles said there had been occasions when he had not started to burn out in time and the firefighters had to be evacuated.

“Fortunately, in my case, we didn’t have any losses,” he said.

Small flames to protect large sequoias

Firefighters conducted burnout operations in the giant forest on Thursday at a practically micro stage, moving from tree to tree, Paterson said. Vegetation cover and natural particles often referred to as dust near trees were set on fire, allowing the flames to move away from the tree to create a buffer zone.

The General Sherman and various tall evergreens were wrapped in aluminum blankets to protect them from the intense heat.

The KNP complex fire in Sequoia National Park, California, rages on.
Experts say wildfires start earlier on stiffer flames and develop quickly in dry climates.
Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon Facebook

The park was the first in the West to use prescribed burning over 50 years ago and often burns a few of its groves to carry fuel. Paterson said it was cause for optimism.

About Norma Wade

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