Rain kicks off prescribed burning | TheUnion.com

Rain kicks off prescribed burning

Rains kick off prescribed burns to restore forests


Sunday’s record-breaking rain could not have arrived at a better time, and hopefully signals the end of this year’s fires.

Those rains also herald the prescribed fire season.

The Tahoe National Forest implements prescribed fire operations to reduce the severity of future wildfires, restore forest health, protect surrounding urban communities and promote a more fire- and pest-resilient forest while improving wildlife habitat.

Initial showers last week added just enough moisture to sustain a low intensity fire for the prescribed burns started this past weekend, said Terry Lim, forest fuels officer for the Tahoe National Forest.

“There are a number of different layers of vegetation — ground, ladder and canopy,” said Lim. “But once you let embers drift into tree canopies, you have uncontrolled wildfire.”

Grass Valley recorded its rainiest day this past weekend, as the storm dumped over 9 inches of rain — 2 inches more than the prior peak of December 2005, according to the National Weather Service.

Prescribed fire operations typically run from now to May. However, they depend on the weather, Lim said. Hotter seasons would delay their start, but this winter is forecast to have abundant precipitation, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

“We were out burning on Saturday,” Lim said. “It was a hard, wet day walking around the forest. But it’s the same firefighters who fought the summer wildfires, who have the same skillset. And a firefighter is a highly skilled position. But we go right from wildfires to prescribed fire operations.”

They focus on areas near subdivisions, where forest and urban areas come together at adjacent boundaries.

On Saturday, firefighters were in the Scotts Flat Reservoir area. They plan to be there all week igniting burn piles — vegetation cut by hand or machine culled from larger tree limbs — as weather allows.

Crews will also be in Forest Hill on Mosquito Ridge in a similar operation. Firefighters will take out hazardous fuels to allow safer and more effective egress and ingress for residents and emergency personnel.

“When you get all the ground and ladder fuels out, we reduce fire behavior and keep flames smaller,” said Lim. “Fires burning the canopy get too intense and we need to call in aerial firefighting planes. So, we clean out all the heavy vegetation that intensifies fire.”


This year’s fire season is already the second biggest year on record for wildfires in California. As of this month nearly 2.4 million acres burned in 8,239 wildfires, while in 2020, there were 4.1 million acres burned in 9,121 fires, according to Cal Fire.

The 2021 Dixie Fire was the single largest wildfire in state history, burning 936,309 acres across five counties. In Grass Valley, the Bennett Fire, which started Aug. 25, burned 59 acres. The River Fire in Nevada and Placer counties burned 2,619 acres.

In a press release, the Forest Service said that fuel reduction is achieved mainly though prescribed fires. It also does selective thinning of vegetation with chainsaws and machine harvesters, as well as post-fire restoration treatments, the removal of invasive plants and development of mature forest habitat.

Eli Llano, Tahoe Forest supervisor, said they are prioritizing forest resilience treatments to counter the growing threat of wildfire.

“We want to keep the Tahoe National Forest safe and healthy long-term so all Californians can continue enjoying opportunities, water supply and other natural resources,” said Llano.

The majority of wildfires are started by humans, Lim said. On rare occasions, incidents such as spontaneous combustion can spark a fire. More frequently, lightening strikes or volcanic activity are the other natural resources that start wildfires.

“Any source of ignition has potential for it to get beyond your control and can be prevalent,” said Lim. “Really pay attention to local burn ordinance. Or just google Burn Day or phone in western Nevada County: 530-274-7928.”

William Roller is a staff writer for The Union. He can be reached at wroller@theunion.com

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