Tale of two fires



This is strange. It's almost as if what scientists and forestry professionals have been telling us for the past 50 years about active stewardship and controlled burns was exactly right.

 Alex Wigglesworth writing for the LA Times

The two fires started just 17 miles apart in the rugged terrain of California’s western Sierra Nevada — but their outcomes couldn’t have been more different.

The Washburn fire, which ignited July 7 along a forested trail in Yosemite National Park, was nearly contained, with no damage to structures or to the famed Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias.

But the Oak fire, which sparked almost two weeks later in the foothills near Midpines, confounded firefighters as it exploded to four times the size of Washburn and forced thousands to flee as it destroyed at least 106 homes. At times, the wildfire’s smoke plume could be seen from space.

Experts attribute the difference to variations in weather, vegetation and topography. The management history of each landscape also played a role: Yosemite boasts decades of active stewardship, including prescribed burns, while areas outside the park bear a legacy of industrial logging and fire suppression.