Yosemite National Parkâ€™s fire season has concluded this year as a series of winter storms have come through the park during the last several weekends.
The park used prescribed fire, managed fire, and mechanical thinning in an attempt to protect the wildland-urban interface while also allowing fire to act as a natural process that can provide ecological benefits to forests and meadows.
Prescribed fires in Yosemite Valley, Wawona, Hodgden Meadow, and the Mariposa Grove totaled 587 acres. Fire managers were limited in their ability to set prescribed fires based on hot and dry weather conditions this fall. The park also needed to meet the air quality guidelines of the corresponding counties. Additionally, park firefighters assisted on major suppression fires throughout the west, including fires in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana and the devastating fires in Southern California.
Just under 12,000 acres in managed fires were allowed to burn in Yosemite. A managed fire is lightning ignited that the park lets burn for ecological benefit as long as the park has the resources to manage it and the fire is not a threat to life or property.
Six fires were suppressed. These were lightning caused fires that were put out to ensure protection to developed areas in the park.
The Woodlot Fire, which was caused by human means, was also suppressed. This fire reached 458 acres and was of great concern to firefighters because of its proximity to the towns of El Portal and Foresta.
The Kibbie Fire and the Tuolumne Fire were converted to suppression fires in September after changes in weather conditions and air quality concerns warranted new management direction.
Yosemite National Park undertook extensive mechanical thinning this year as well. Park staff, private contractors, PG&E, volunteer groups, private landowners and the park concessionaire, mechanically treated almost 800 acres of land. This cooperative, collaborative effort is a good example of the National Fire Plan at work in Yosemite. The National Park Service looks forward to working with private contractors who can assist the park with hazard fuel reduction and ecosystem restoration in the coming years.
There are a total of 13,000 slash piles throughout the park. The piles are composed of mechanically thinned trees and nearby dead and downed wood. This is part of a hazard fuel reduction project done in Wildland/Urban Interface to reduce the fire risk. These piles will be burned throughout the winter months as long as air quality conditions remain favorable.
Researchers conservatively estimate that approximately 16,000 acres of land burned in Yosemite prior to European inhabitation of the area. Even though nearly 14,000 acres of parkland received some kind of mechanical or fire treatment over the past year, this total is still short of the targets proposed by the latest update of the Fire Management Plan. However, park managers are pleased that the 14,000 acres accomplished this past year represents an upward trend from previous years´ accomplishments.