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Rim Fire--photo report from this weekend

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Rim Fire--photo report from this weekend

Postby balzaccom » Tue Oct 01, 2013 11:40 am

We're back from a short backpacking trip to Yosemite (we'll post a Trip Report in the future) but we thought you might be interested in seeing just exactly what the damage from the Rim Fire looks like as you drive by some of the burn area on Highway 120 through Big Oak Flat and into Yosemite.

The good news? There are huge parts of this fire that are described as having burned---and yet still have plenty of green trees in place. The fire in these areas was obviously not so hot, and burned only the understory of the forest. In fact, the larger trees seemed to do better, probably because their lower branches had long since fallen away, and there was little to catch fire at that lower level. As long as the bark and cambium layer wasn't damaged, those trees are fine.

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The first photo shows an overview of the section of the fire that burned in Yosemite...with both green trees and burn damage.

And Highway 120, at forty feet wide or so, was a pretty good firebreak in a lot of areas. You can see where the fire burned the understory on one side of the highway, but the fire crews were able to keep it from crossing into the forest on the other side of the road. Nice work.

There are also some areas where the only thing that didn't burn is the building along the road---as the fire burned the entire forest right up to the edge of the buildings.

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But there are also scenes of real devastation--whole sections of the forest that are now just burnt sticks. This is between the Big Oak Flat Entrance Station and Crane Flat. They are clearly trying to log some of these areas right now, so that the fire danger doesn't get even worse...and some of that lumber can be salvaged. But other areas are just burnt to a crisp. The trees are all dead, the foliage is burnt off, and the ground is black and white ashes.

It's hard to imagine these areas making a quick comeback, and we've all hiked through enough burned areas to know that ten years from now, many of these black stumps will still be the tallest things in this part of the forest.

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We were particularly saddened by this fire damage up the side of one of Yosemite's distinctive granite domes. Those trees, which took centuries to grow that big, will never come back in our lifetime. The first clearly shot right up the side of the dome, and burned everything until it ran out of fuel.

And as a final note, the view from the Rim of the World is pretty desolate. Here there was as much brush as trees, and it all went up in smoke. Most of what you can see from this overlook is black soil--and only a few tiny spots where something green might still be living.

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And yes, there are still a few tiny spots in the middle of this devastation where there is something green still alive.

And feeling very lonely.
Balzaccom

check out our website: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/



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Re: Rim Fire--photo report from this weekend

Postby tim » Tue Oct 01, 2013 2:31 pm

I flew over northern Yosemite this morning. Didn't get a photo unfortunately, but some areas were still burning on the north side of Kibbie Ridge (below the crest). No obvious fire but several columns of smoke. There was another much smaller column of smoke somewhere around the switchbacks on the north side of Hetch Hetchy.
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Re: Rim Fire--photo report from this weekend

Postby kpeter » Tue Oct 01, 2013 5:00 pm

Thank you Balzaccom and Tim, for those updates. Still columns of smoke today? Wow. I appreciate the photos, Balzaccom. Yes, mixed news.

The Rim Fire Map that I have been using to watch the hotspots and perimeter of the fire went down today. I presume that was part of the government shutdown--that kind of public service is not essential.

The reports have been consistent ever since the storm more than a week ago--they are letting the fire smolder in a few remaining pockets behind the lines, and they are letting it creep forward in the Cherry Lake to Hetch Hetchy wilderness region.

The last good perimeter maps (before they shut down) I saw showed:
1. Kibbie Ridge had burned almost to Lookout Point.
2. The fire had burned to within a couple hundred yards of the east shore of Kibbie Lake.
3. The fire had burned pretty much the whole region between Kibbie Lake and Flora Lake but never make it quite as far as Flora.
4. The fire had burned from Lake Eleanor as far as the North and West shores of Bartlett Creek and Eleanor Creek but had not crossed either of them
5. The fire had burned from Eleanor to Hetch Hetchy and destroyed the Miguel Meadow Ranger Station.
6. The fire burned the switchbacks on the north shore of Hetch Hetchy almost to Beehive but not quite all the way, and along the shoreline from the tunnel to Wapama Falls.

Now Balzaccom and some scientific reports raise a good point--much of the area inside the burn zone may not be badly burned. The fire reports indicated that in the NW Yosemite wilderness much of the burning was similar to controlled burns, and might be the kind of natural fires that will enhance those ecosystems and even add to aesthetic beauty. Most of the fires in NW Yosemite were not part of the firestorm on August 21 and 22 and were slower, lower burns.

We won't really know what has happened up there until someone goes there, keeping in mind that the worst damage to trails is yet to come, when runoff hits denuded hills.
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Re: Rim Fire--photo report from this weekend

Postby rlown » Tue Oct 01, 2013 6:04 pm

Captain Hindsight here.. but what did we just spend $90+ million on to "fight" this fire?

I'm just confused because these are professional fire fighters and should have known it was a lost cause based on terrain and fuel load. Maybe just focus on the important structures and let everything else just go to water or granite?

Not to mention the reseed and trail work. (dunno if we actually pay for trail work). And why do i want to reseed it if it's just gonna burn again due to neglect? k, maybe erosion, but that's been happening forever.

My vote would be to just let it be and see what happens naturally. we keep sticking our big human feet in where maybe we shouldn't.
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Re: Rim Fire--photo report from this weekend

Postby giantbrookie » Tue Oct 01, 2013 6:04 pm

Thanks for the photo update and report. Those are the first photos I've seen anywhere from the burn area so they and your report really help give a picture of what things look like inside the fire perimeter.
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Re: Rim Fire--photo report from this weekend

Postby kpeter » Tue Oct 01, 2013 6:48 pm

rlown wrote:Captain Hindsight here.. but what did we just spend $90+ million on to "fight" this fire?

Well, having been a BLM firefighter for a brief spell, I can say that every fire I fought on I was deployed to protect a pathway the fire might take toward human structures. In the Rim fire they did just "let it burn" in the wilderness. Nearly all the money spent on cat lines and tanker drops were to protect Groveland and Pine Mountain in the early stages and then the 108 corridor in the later stages as the fire exploded north.

I could tell stories about the fire lines to protect Carmel Valley in the 1977 Marble Cone fire, but I would be getting pretty far off topic. Let's just say firefighting of all kinds has always been about politics.
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Re: Rim Fire--photo report from this weekend

Postby rlown » Tue Oct 01, 2013 6:52 pm

90 mill.. how many structures?
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Re: Rim Fire--photo report from this weekend

Postby cmon4day » Tue Oct 01, 2013 8:01 pm

rlown wrote:90 mill.. how many structures?


I bet if it was your house in the path of the fire you wouldn't be saying that
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Re: Rim Fire--photo report from this weekend

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Oct 01, 2013 9:03 pm

There are a lot of fairly high density subdivisions out of Groveland that were in the fire's path, not to mention Groveland itself and other small towns in the area. I also believe much effort was spent to protect Hetch Hetchy due to it being SF water source. In addition, Crane Flat gas station, White Wolf Evergreen Lodge, and Camp Mather. Helicopters and airplanes are expensive. I hear they used drones quite a bit to monitor the fire. The comparison of costs should be relative to other fires of this size and duration of burn with similar buildings, etc. (and cost indexed to 2013 dollars). Was it a waste of $$ ?? Easy to be armchair critic with 20/20 hindsight. A fire this large, winds could have shifted and done serious damage to towns.
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Re: Rim Fire--photo report from this weekend

Postby kpeter » Tue Oct 01, 2013 9:25 pm

rlown wrote:90 mill.. how many structures?

It is up to $127 million now, if you want to keep score.

There were thousands of evacuations. If the fire were simply allowed to burn through Groveland, Pine Mountain, Tuolumne, Twaine-Hart, Mi-Wuk Village, and Pinecrest then there would have been hundreds if not thousands of structures destroyed in these mountain villages. A cost/benefit analysis would probably say that the fire suppression effort was worth it--even before you get to ethical considerations.

However--I think it fair to ask whether it was wise to allow so many developments in this area in the first place.
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Re: Rim Fire--photo report from this weekend

Postby orbitor » Wed Oct 02, 2013 2:43 pm

This was a front page article in the September 29 edition of the LA Times:
http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-w ... .htmlstory

Sorry if not entirely relevant to the Rim Fire, but I thought it'd be a good addition to the discussion on the skyrocketing costs of fighting the blazes.
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Re: Rim Fire--photo report from this weekend

Postby rlown » Wed Oct 02, 2013 3:04 pm

If you build in an area, you should be required to make sure you have a protected boundary around either a subdivision or a single house. Given the area and the apparent relative neglect at clearing safety zones, It kind of becomes build at your own risk.

I feel the same about areas in valleys around Solano County. Some of those fields are left to just build up enough grass fuel that overrun subdivisions. You don't see most actively either cutting or tilling around the edges of their fields for that protective zone.
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