Congressman George Radanovich, and Assemblyman Dave Cogdill along with other state, federal and local government officials gathered at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds today (Tuesday) for discussions about smoke that blankets the Mother Lode during summertime wildfires and prescribed burning.
The Mariposa congressman co-hosted the session with with the Modesto Assemblyman. More than 70 people came to hear what the various agencies, — like CDF, U.S. Forest Service, Yosemite National park and Tuolumne County Public Health Department — had to say about the problem.
Fire Management Officer Tom Nichols with Yosemite National Park, one of several panel members during the three hour session, said this year Yosemite had a large lightning-sparked fire that was allowed to burn over several weeks during the summer. Park policies, he explained, had changed over the past 30 years, so that now lighting fires above 7,000 feet within the park boundaries are allowed to burn rather than being extinguished .
Tuolumne County Air Pollution Control Officer Gary Caseri, also on the panel, told the public his agency has three major concerns stemming form smoke coming from the fires.
He said the air district is concerned with lightning-caused wildfire that are allowed to burn, which have, in the past, produced lots of smoke; prescribed fire and management of burns in heavily-fuels regions which emit a lot of smoke, and various agencies dependence on using fire as a fire control method. Caseri suggested that mechanical forest thinning was a better option for making forest less fire prone.
Dr. Todd Stolp with the Tuolumne County Health Department explained why smoke is a health hazard. He said the negative affect of prolonged exposure to smoke from wildfires is hard to judge, since there are so many variables. He did point out the number one issue from the health department standpoint is the particulate matter, or ash, that is carried by the smoke and drops over the local communities.
Steve Hollet with CDF is a pre-suppression division fire chief., Gary Cones Resource protection program leader with the US Forest Service Stanislaus National Forest also joined Radanovich, Cogdill and panel moderato Mike Albrecht today.
The public then asked questions and offered comments.
While in Sonora, the republican Congressman talked with county supervisors during their morning session and toured the new Sonora regional Medical Center off Greenley Road.