Thursday, September 19, 2013

Rim Fire Kills Everything in 60 Square Miles of 400 Square Mile Fire

California's Rim Fire that burned in forest land in and around Yosemite National Park has left a contiguous barren moonscape in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The fire has consumed about 400 square miles, and within that footprint are a solid 60 square miles that burned so intensely that everything is dead.  In total, it is estimated that almost 40 percent of the area inside the fire's boundary is nothing but charred land. Other areas that burned left trees scarred but alive.
In this September 2013 photo provided by the U.S. ForestRim Fire aftermath: Soils scientist in Rim Fire burn area Service, a soils scientist from the Burned Area Emergency Response team assesses a burn area in the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Calif. Of the more than 250,000 acres that burned within the Rim Fire perimeter, the National Park Service’s Burned Area Emergency Response team estimated Monday Sept. 16, 2013, that 7 percent burned at high severity, 37 percent at moderate severity and the other 56 percent either didn’t burn or burned at low severity.
 A soils scientist from the Burned Area Emergency Respone Team assess a burn area in The Rim fire near Yosemite National Park, California
The fire has not left such a contiguous moonscape since before the Little Ice Age, which began in 1350.  In the decades before humans began controlling fire in forests, the Sierra would burn every 10 to 20 years, clearing understory growth on the ground and opening up clearings for new tree growth. Modern-day practices of fire suppression, combined with cutbacks in forest service budgets and a desire to reduce smoke impacts in the polluted San Joaquin Valley, have combined to create tinderboxes.  Drought, and dryness associated with a warming climate also have contributed to the intensity of fires this year.

Some areas of the Stanislaus National Forest ravaged by the Rim Fire had not burned in 100 years. Most of the land that now resembles a moonscape burned on Aug. 21 and Aug. 22. 

Rim Fire aftermath: Deer returns to Rim Fire area.
A deer returns to its home range in the Rim Fire area near Yosemite National Park, Calif.

Short-term impacts in the park could include the displacement of a unique and threatened subspecies of great gray owls that makes home in treetops in the fire's range.
The Rim Fire started Aug. 17, when a hunter's fire spread, and continues to burn. It is named for a ridge near the location where the fire started — The Rim of the World, an overlook above a gorge carved by the Tuolumne River.

Severe soil damage occurred on just 7 percent of the land inside the fire's footprint, said officials with the federal Burned Area Environmental Response team. Fire can destroy soil and make it susceptible to erosion by either burning the fine roots and other organic matter that holds it together, or by burning chaparral that releases oils that create an impervious barrier preventing rainwater from being absorbed. (MSN News, AP Photo: U.S. Forest Service, Brad Rust, AP Photo: U.S. Forest Service, Louis Haynes)

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