Gap Fire leaves deep scars
The Gap Fire was officially controlled on Monday, but not before the pristine landscape was mostly charred to a crisp.
Upwards of 90 percent of the trees on the 1,400 acres of National Forest land burned in the fire are completely dead, said Bob Carey, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service.
“What we’re trying to do is decide how we’ll approach the restoration project,” Carey said.
Because so many trees are dead and not just damaged by the fire, most of them will be removed from the burn area and taken to mills. Reforestation will begin in the spring, diverting seedlings to the area and possibly planting some pine cone seeds, but the entire area will not be restored.
“Ten years ago we would have flown in there and seeded the whole area,” Carey said. “We don’t do that any more.”
Restoring the burned area actually began before the fire was even contained.
On Thursday, members of the Suppression Rehabilitation team went into the fire area to assess damage caused by fighting the fire. Fixing the fire suppression damage caused by the bulldozers and hand crews has already begun. Restoring the soil damaged by suppression is important in keeping natural water channels, said suppression team leader Kathy Vanzuuk.
“The emphasis in that area will be watershed restoration,” Carey said, pointing out that the North Fork of the American River runs through the burn area. “We need to handle it carefully.”
The Burn Area Emergency Team reported that the area needs to be monitored for noxious weeds like spotted nab weed and yellow star thistle that can crowd out native vegetation, causing an imbalance in the ecosystem, Vanzuuk said.
Bill Baker, a public information officer for the US Forest Service, said about 75 percent of the fire burned at high intensity, caused by low humidity, high temperatures and extremely dry and plentiful ground fuels. High intensity fires make it harder for forests to recover, he said.
“It looks like matchsticks out there,” Baker said while checking the burn area on Thursday. “These conditions are unusual. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”
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