Forest service tackles hazardous fuels

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Forest service tackles hazardous fuelsIn an attempt to reduce the risk of wildfires in the face of historic rates of tree mortality, the Kern River Ranger District of the Sequoia National Forest has announced its plan to conduct controlled burns as part of its hazardous fuel reduction project.

“The current tree mortality issue comes down to two things,” said District Ranger Al Watson. “The No. 1, by far, is that we are going into six years of drought. That’s why we are seeing this massive die off of evergreen and even some oak trees.

“The second cause is the pine beetle infestation, but the drought has been the catalyst for that as well. That is something trees can normally fight off.”

Watson acknowledged that the Kern River Valley and surrounding areas suffered a particularly severe fire season, which saw the widespread destruction of homes in and around Lake Isabella.

Firefighters managed to keep the Cedar Fire, coming on the heels of Erskine, away from inhabited areas, but rugged terrain and dry conditions protracted the containment process.

“I will say, the Cedar Fire is a good example of how tree mortality has made suppression drastically more difficult,” said Watson.

“We are going to see this happening again up and down the Sierra next summer.”

But by conducting prescribed burns, he said, officials hope to mitigate the impact of wildfire destruction in the future.

Forest Service officials will be conducting pile burns — which consist of individual piles of dry wood contained within an area about the size of a football field — throughout the season.

According to a media advisory provided by the Kern River Ranger District, officials plan to burn 52 piles in small units, designed to minimize effects of smoke on the community while reducing the potential for large, stand-replacing wildfires.

Watson said that although there has been discussion of getting financial relief for ongoing attempts to combat, and recover from, wildfires, no additional funding has been identified as of yet.

Officials warn that smoke will be visible from several communities in and around Lake Isabella. No road closures are anticipated at this time.

Updates are posted regularly on the Sequoia National Forest Facebook page.

Residents can also call the Kern Valley Ranger Station, 760-376-3781.

Pictured: Smoke from last summer’s Cedar Fire, seen hovering above the Sierra Nevada, obscures the western horizon of the Indian Wells Valley. -- Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2016-12-02