Fire Stories

Fire stories from the national parks highlight events, incidents, and the like, associated with fire and fuels management, as well as fire education, technology, partnerships, and more. Stories highlight work related to Department of the Interior initiatives as well as local and regional initiatives.

A firefighter stands on a fireline on a steep hill with other firefighters below.

Heading down the steep line. NPS / Crew 91

Whitaker Prescribed Fire: A Story in Partnerships

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California
Cohesive Strategy—Maintain and Restore Landscapes*

The Whitaker prescribed fire, completed in June, 2012, was an interagency project completed in cooperation between the National Park Service and the Center for Forestry, part of UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources.

This 504 acre unit, 429 acres of which were on park land and 75 acres on UC Center for Forestry land, was in the Redwood Mountain Grove.

A firefighter works on a chainsaw.

Checking on the chainsaw. NPS / Crew 91

Redwood Mountain is home to the largest giant sequoia grove in the world and is also the birthplace of prescribed fire in the western United States. Starting in 1963 and 1964, researchers for both the National Park Service and University of California first studied the need for fire to sustain the giant sequoia. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks began using prescribed fires in 1968. By monitoring change following the Whitaker prescribed fire, scientists and managers will further improve our understanding of the complex relationship between fire and giant sequoia.

Historically, fire occurred in the mixed conifer forest of this drainage approximately every seven to fifteen years. Most of the park lands were last burned in the 1970s. However, the segment on UC Berkeley land had no recorded fire history. Because of the lack of recent fire and the opportunity for research, this area was an especially high priority for prescribed fire for UC Berkeley. This project reduced the amount of forest fuels that could feed an unwanted fire and created conditions that are better suited for giant sequoia regeneration.

Additionally, fire managers worked closely with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to select the best air quality windows to reduce local smoke impacts. Fire managers recognized that this unit had the potential to have significant smoke impacts to nearby communities. However, daily conversations between the parks and the air district were crucial to finding the best weather window for good smoke dispersal. For most of the project, smoke lifted up and dispersed to the east, leaving nearby communities mostly free of smoke.

The working relationships developed in advance of the project between the parks, UC Berkeley, and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District was the cornerstone of this project’s success.

Contact: Deb Schweizer, Fire Education Specialist

Email: debra_schweizer@nps.gov

Phone: (559) 565-3703

*This story supports the Department of the Interior initiatives.