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California fights fire with fire

California fire season far from over

As fire crews fighting the Humboldt County Mill Creek Fire wrap up local operations after 100 percent containment, California State officials warn that this year’s record breaking fire season is far from over.

According to California’s Climate Change Assessment released last week, a study found that by 2100, if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, the frequency of extreme wildfires would increase and the average area burned statewide would increase by 77 percent.

Locally, firefighters at the Mill Creek Fire, reached 100 percent containment last Thursday Aug. 30. The fire, which has been burning since Aug. 16, is located just north of Hoopa, and has burned over 3,600 acres.

The wildfire is believed to have been sparked by arson. There is a $10,000 reward offered for information regarding the origins of the fire.

According to Jeff Knudson of the Great Basin National Incident Management Team 6, no one was harmed by the Mill Creek Fire, and no infrastructure was damaged, but there was significant damage to the Hoopa Tribe’s timber base.

Knudson, the Deputy Incident Commander, said the team is made up of firefighters from federal, state, and local partners from Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming, Utah and Idaho. He has over 30 years of experience fighting wildfires and says that over the years he has seen some changes in wildfires.

“We’re seeing longer fire seasons,” Knudson said. “The fires are more intense.”

On Friday Aug. 31 Great Basin Team 6 was getting ready to head home after returning command of the Mill Creek Fire to the Hoopa Fire Department.

Meanwhile, last Friday Aug. 31, Cal Fire released a Labor Day Weekend news release warning that wildfire risk remains high. The Director of Cal Fire, Chief Ken Pimlott, said that this year firefighters have been busier than ever with record breaking wildfires.

“This year, Cal Fire has responded to 4,434 fires that burned 876,428 acres, compared to last year when we responded to 4,170 fires for 228,803 acres,” Pimlott said.

Cal Fire, with collaboration from the California Environmental Protection Agency, and the California Natural Resources Agency announced earlier this year in their California Forest Carbon Plan that increasing fire treatments through prescribed fires is a California State goal. A recent study has attributed 55 percent of the increase in dry fuels to human-caused climate change.

By 2020 Cal Fire wants to double the current rate of forest restoration and fuels reduction treatments, including planned fires, to 35,000 acres per year for non-federal forest lands.

Additionally, findings from the state’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment supported Cal Fire’s goal further with scientific backing that doubling forest restoration and treatments statewide, by 2020 is an important step.

Jeffrey Kane is an associate professor of Fire Ecology and Fuels Management at HSU and Chair of the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council. Kane said he is encouraged that California is taking steps to scrutinize its legacy of fire suppression. Kane said that the bottom line is California is a fire prone state.

“California needs fire like it needs water and sunlight,” Kane said.

Lifelong Hoopa resident Matthew Sylvia said growing up in the area fires weren’t as severe as they are now. He said regular prescribed burning used to be a tribal practice and spoke of some of the benefits they see from routine low intensity fires such as the thinning of the forest from brush and the removal of pests such as ticks and acorn infesting weevils.

“We also burned for basket weaving materials, and mushrooms,” Sylvia said.

Sylvia said that after a fire, edible mushrooms and grasses used to make baskets would spring up from the ashes.

Kane said the integrated pest management and ecological benefits after a prescribed fire that Sylvia described is called traditional ecological knowledge.

Sylvia, a business major, said being so close to Redding, Calif. and coming off the heels of the Carr fire there was an initial panic in the community from the fire.

“People were worried about it sweeping up the whole valley,” Sylvia said.

Kane said that increasing the amount of prescribed fire treatments isn’t a magic solution but it is a step in the right direction.

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