What can we learn from the California Rim Fire?
August 17, 2014 will mark the one year anniversary of the Rim Fire in the California Sierra Nevadas. It was dubbed the Rim Fire due to its proximity to the Rim of the World scenic lookout. The third largest wildfire in California’s history, it burned 257,000 acres of land in Stanislaus National Forest and the western edge of Yosemite National Park, in addition to private land in neighboring counties. It cost more than $127 million to contain, and included more than $50 million in property damage.
In the early hours of the fire, a deer hunter was rescued. After the hunter was taken to safety by helicopter, investigators interviewed him to see if he witnessed anything. He told them that he had slipped and caused a rock slide that may have ignited the dry vegetation. As time went on, his story changed several times, even blaming it on marijuana growers. Finally, as the fire had been raging for several weeks, he finally told the real story.
In a written confession, Keith Matthew Emerald admitted had started a fire to make some soup. As he was cleaning up his trash and the fire, the wind blew some hot embers up the mountain and ignited the dry brush. Emerald said it happened so fast that he was unable to stamp out the embers as they blew uphill before they started burning out of control.
The fire would continue to burn for more than two months.
One year later, the area is still dealing with the after effects. One of the big fears after forest fires is floods and mud slides due to the loss of vegetation. In an unusual twist, California's most severe drought in more than a decade has been an unexpected relief for land managers after the Rim Fire. The lack of rain has prevented large amounts of debris and ash ending up in steams and reservoirs, saving water companies from having to spend tens of thousands of dollars on cleanup. It has also reduced the amount of water resistant top soil, allowing for grass seeds and young trees to already push through and not be destroyed by runoff.
Image of large Elk escaping forest fire via Shutterstock.
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