Reprinted (abridged) from the Trinity Journal, Sept. 3, 2014
Firefighters who tamed the wind-driven flames of the Aug. 24 Oregon fire at the doorsteps of town are crediting last fall’s prescribed fire treatment within the Weaverville Community Forest and the Weaver Basin Trail System for helping them to stop the fire’s advance on Trinity High School and the many homes in harm’s way until the wind calmed.
Hiking up the Garden Gulch trail north of Taylor Street, it is easy to see where prescribed burning was conducted last November and where it wasn’t.
Uphill on the treated side of the trail, grasses were scorched, but the trees are green and undamaged. Downhill, where heavy brush was not treated, the recent fire burned hot and fast, resulting in blackened earth and greater tree mortality.
Touring the area immediately after the flames were out, Shasta-Trinity National Forest Fuels Specialist Tim Ritchey of Weaverville estimated tree mortality of approximately 10 percent where the fire ran through areas that had been treated with prescribed burning to reduce the buildup of fuels. It is closer to 60 percent where no treatment occurred.
“The treated areas really slowed the fire down so the crews could get in. The intensity decreased and the rate of spread slowed which aided us in getting around and ahead of the fire,” Ritchey said, pointing to a section where there were 20- to 30-foot flames on the wildfire side of the trail and flames of less than a foot on the treated side.
“It’s really nice to see defensible space in action,” said the Shasta-Trinity’s acting Public Affairs Officer Debra Ann Brabazon, noting that prescribed burns are not always popular with the public in the short-term, “so it’s important for the community to see there is a positive, long-term effect.”
Having existing trails in place also provided quick access for firefighters “who didn’t have to cut and bulldoze their way into the fire here,” she said.
The U.S. Forest Service and Weaverville Volunteer Fire Department last November conducted the prescribed burn on 76 acres north of Taylor Street involving Community Forest land accessed by the Weaver Basin Trail System and some private acreage owned by the Snyder Highland Foundation.
The burning was done as part of the Weaverville Community Fire Protection Plan to enhance wildlife habitat by increasing forage for deer. The Trinity County Resource Conservation District assisted, and grant funding was received from the California Deer Association.
Trail damage assessments also began immediately following the fire as did restoration work to repair bulldozer lines, prevent erosion and replace tread torn up by suppression efforts.
As far as doing more prescribed burning in the area, Ritchey said there are plans being made to treat about 230 acres in the East Weaver Creek drainage this fall for community protection and wildlife enhancement as well as a Jackass Ridge project involving about 90 acres to expand on a smaller burn conducted there in January.