Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fire Update: Calm

The smoke plume I saw last Thursday was from the Table Mountain Fire, about 12 miles to my northeast.  The fire was caused by a lightning strike back on September 2, but it wasn't discovered until it started generating heavier smoke on September 12. Because it was in a remote Wilderness Study Area and did not jeopardize any structures, the Forest Service had been wisely letting it burn. Last week it began spreading further to the south toward some cabins, so the Forest Service began actively working to contain it with aircraft and ground personnel. You can see the current status of the Table Mountain Fire at Fire Incident Report.

The National Weather Service got it right on Saturday--it was cooler, dry and windy. The wind was generally out of the west, so it pushed the Table Mountain Fire more toward the east, although it continued to creep a little to the south. This is the view from my place late Saturday afternoon, looking northeast.

Naturally caused forest fires are an important part of the ecosystem, so they should be allowed to burn when they don't threaten communities. Some species of plants, such as the lodgepole pine, need the heat of a fire to allow their seeds to germinate. Moderate intensity fires also thin parts of the forest to the benefit of many species, and they add nutrients to the soil in the form of ash. If fires are not allowed to burn, dry fuels continue to build up, which can greatly increase the intensity of future fires. Despite the admonishments of Smokey Bear (not Smokey the Bear, a common mistake), no one can prevent all forest fires. Ted Williams, the living ecological writer, not the dead baseball player, wrote an excellent article back in 1995, titled Only You Can Postpone Forest Fires. Some parts of the article are a bit dated now, but it is still a good piece on fire policy.

1 comment:

  1. The fire information is really interesting - I never realized that they can necessary evils - I thought they were bad no matter what size or their gensis.

    Don't you mess with Smokey THE Bear ..... he's an American icon ... like the tooth fairy!