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.

The Cedar Bluffs Prescribed Fire clears this mixed connifer forest of accumulated forest fuels with low intesity fire.

Advantage in Timing: Cedar Bluffs Prescribed Fire

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, California
National Fire Plan, Fuels Reduction*

Fire managers in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks seized an opportunity to complete a prescribed fire in Cedar Grove that provided safer control measures while also achieving key ecological goals.

Timing was everything for this project. This prescribed fire unit, located along the Kings River drainage in Kings Canyon National Park, adjoined to the area burned by the Roaring Fire of 2006. The 2006 lightning fire grew to over 1,700 acres and cleaned the forest floor of accumulated woody debris. When completing the 1006 acre Cedar Bluffs Prescribed Fire, fire managers knew that the south flank of the unit would be controlled when the fire spread upslope into the Roaring Fire area and extinguished in the absence of available forest fuels.

Additionally, the Roaring Fire provided a lesson learned for the parks' fire ecologist. By observing the fire behavior of the Roaring Fire, and under the direction of the fire ecologist, during the Cedar Bluffs Prescribed Fire, fire managers attempted to simulate the natural pattern of fire in this area. The vegetation in the Cedar Grove area is composed of the mixed conifer vegetation type as well as areas of live oak and single leaf pinyon pine. Historically, fire naturally occurs approximately every fifteen years in the mixed conifer forest of the Sierra Nevada. However, live oak and pinyon pine forests experience natural fire infrequently. The 2006 Roaring Fire backed into these areas and went out on its own.

The mixed conifer forest species have adapted to fire over thousands of years and thrive in a natural cycle of low severity fires. Fire helps thin this forest, opening the canopy and allowing sunlight through. It recycles nutrients to the soil while reducing the amount of dead, woody debris. This aids the sprouting and re-growth of plants, shrubs, and trees. Fire also helps to create a mosaic of diverse habitats for plants and animals.

Mature pinyon pine and live oak forests are rare to the western slopes of the southern Sierra Nevada and are not fire tolerant. Fires often burn around the pinyon/oak areas because the vegetation is sparsely spaced. Pinyon nuts are an important food source for birds and animals in the parks.

The pinyon pine and live oak forest in Cedar Grove is more open than the mixed conifer forest. Fire is a rare event in this forest type. NPS photo by Tony Caprio.

Ignitions were completed in the mixed conifer forest while the live oak and pinyon pine areas were deliberately avoided. The fire behavior was similar to a natural fire event. The forest floor was cleansed of accumulated forest fuels in the mixed conifer forest and the fire naturally did not carry into the oak/pinyon areas.

"The Cedar Bluffs project provided an excellent opportunity to verify our prescribed fire methods," said Tony Caprio, the parks' fire ecologist. "Prescribed fires are set under pre-determined conditions that consider safety, control, and simulating natural fire events for ecological goals. This project demonstrated the successful integration of ecological information with burn implementation."

Contact: Deb Schweizer, Fire Education Specialist
Phone: (559) 565-3703

*This story supports the Department of the Interior initiatives.