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California’s more than 150 local Fire Safe Councils are non-profit cooperatives whose collective mission is to minimize the potential for wildfire damage to their communities while enhancing the health of California’s natural resources.
Fire Safe Councils are often a consortium of state and federal agencies, county government, private timber landowners, local Fire Protection Districts, and community members. They work cooperatively to secure grant funding and administer fuel reduction projects to make forest communities a safer place to live.
Soper-Wheeler is a member of several Fire Safe Councils in the Yuba-Feather area, and we are regularly involved in Fire Safe projects that reduce fire danger while improving forest health.
We use several techniques to decrease fuels and promote forest health.
To improve forest health and reduce fuels, our crews regularly conduct prescribed burns on our forestlands, usually in the fall and winter.
Prescribed Fire is used to approximate the natural vegetative disturbance of periodic fire occurrence. We use prescribed burns to reduce fuel loading while maintaining fire dependent ecosystems and restoring those outside their natural balance. Low intensity prescribed fire is applied by our trained crew to clear ground of dangerous fuels like dead wood and brush. This low-intensity fire, also known as an underburn, is vital to the life cycles of fire-dependent range and forest lands.
Forests that have become overgrown with trees and brush become stressed as each plant competes for water and nutrients. These stressed stands are easily infested with
insects and other diseases, and have a much greater potential for catastrophic wildfire than thinned stands.
Thinning removes excess growth and ladder fuels that can turn a low-intensity ground fire into a high-intensity crown fire. Thinning also improves the health of the forest. According to the 1997 Presidential Summit on Lake Tahoe, selectively thinning 30 percent of trees in an unhealthy forest will eliminate 93 percent of future tree death while lowering potential for catastrophic fire.
A recent peer-reviewed scientific study show that thinned stands grow faster than unthinned stands and sequester carbon at a higher rate. The research found that thinning and vegetation control increased carbon sequestration 30% and decreased fire caused tree mortality 50% over unthinned stands.
A shaded fuel break is a forest management strategy used to stop or slow the spread of wildfire by thinning and removing more flammable understory vegetation in a strategically located strip or area while leaving the majority of larger, more fire tolerant tree species in place.
We often use a piece of equipment known as a masticator to accomplish understory removal. The masticator head consists of a high-speed spinning drum with hardened cutting teeth, and is attached to the boom of tracked forestry equipment. As the operator sweeps the masticator head over the area to be thinned, the masticator grinds the vegetation into chips which are left on the forest floor to naturally decompose and provide nutrients for the remaining forest.
The goal of a fuel break is to slow the wildfire and to decrease the flame length, thus making containment a manageable task.
The quick containment of the Ponderosa Fire on the Plumas National Forest in August 2010 is a good example of how a strategically placed fuel break can make the difference between a call for two fire engines and a multi-day major incident.