Yosemite criticized for botching intentional fire

Yosemite criticized for botching intentional fire

18 January 2010

published by www.fresnobee.com

USA — Yosemite National Park officials didn’t adequately account for explosive fire danger last August near an intentional brush-clearing burn, which went out of control and charred 7,200 acres, federal reviewers say.

The National Park Service review, released this month, said Yosemite should revamp its planning process for so-called prescribed fires.

Yosemite officials said a wind-blown ember ignited a cedar tree outside the planned burn perimeter, triggering the Big Meadow fire that caused evacuations at the nearby community of Foresta.

Officials say they will review and probably alter their planning for prescribed fires in the future.

Plans for the 89-acre burn followed federal guidelines, the review said. But the plans somehow missed the potential problems just outside the boundaries of the planned burn.

The dangers included many standing dead trees and snags from a 1990 wildfire. The trees were left standing as habitat for the great gray owl, officials said.

Each year, federal officials intentionally set fires to mimic natural fires that burn low-lying brush and small trees, carefully planning for safety. Yosemite fire crews had done many such burns without a problem last summer.

Aside from the dead trees and snags outside the burn area, the review noted Yosemite has unfilled jobs in key positions. It recommended filling the positions and lifting the administrative load on burn bosses so they are less distracted.

The review also noted the burn crew had a 40-minute delay in using a bulldozer to help fight the fire. The crew could not reach the Yosemite superintendent, who must approve the use of any heavy equipment that might damage sensitive American Indian cultural sites in the park.

However, Yosemite officials said the bulldozer would not have immediately helped because the fire was climbing uphill and the equipment could not have been moved up the ridge to catch up with it.

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