During the Fire
A significant pattern of lightning activity covered much of California that started the weekend of August 15 and 16, 2020 initially causing 38 local fires. Spanning 6 counties (Glenn, Tehama, Mendocino, Lake, Trinity, and Shasta) and 3 National Forests (Mendocino, Six Rivers, and Shasta-Trinity) within the eastern edge of the Northern California Coast Range, the August Complex engulfed 1,032,648 acres making it the state’s largest wildfire on record. The wildfire raged for over four consecutive months that called for seven incident management teams to collaboratively address immediate needs. The fire footprint included:
- 612k acres of the Mendocino NF
- 162k acres of the Six Rivers NF
- 139k acres of the Shasta-Trinity NF
FireScape Mendocino facilitates community discussions and informational exchanges for an improved fire-adapted local landscape.
FireScape Mendocino unites citizens and natural resource specialists as a collective stakeholder group to help process the post-fire emotional and physical losses.
FireScape Mendocino creates shared learning experiences for citizens and natural resource specialists through free Workshops and Field Trips. These sessions generate guiding principles for resource managers to incorporate into planning documents and implementation.
Through FireScape Mendocino’s collaborative process, multiple forest users including tribes, wilderness tourist (hiking, backpacking, wildlife and wildflower viewing, cabin use, etc.), recreationists (fishing, hunting, OHV, horse-back riding, camping, etc.), timber harvesters, and ranchers, as well as natural resource specialists such as foresters and biologists representing commercial timber, CAL FIRE, US Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management play a role in shaping the future forest.
What does going forward look like for the Mendocino?
At well over 1 million acres, the Mendocino forest area calls for an all hands-all lands approach in returning this shared resource to a fire-adapted landscape, intentionally preparing sites for wildfire in advance of such an event. It is critical to incorporate the ongoing impacts of climate change as drought and high temperatures not only directly affect trees, but also influence pest and pathogens. Below are components identified by stakeholders that may provide a strategic path forward. It is organized as a cross-section forest profile from low to high elevation features.
- Forest Floor: Reduce surplus of surface woody fuels that could drive high-intensity burns. This allows for prescribed burns to operate under ideal or near ideal conditions. Address slash and other woody debris by either pile burning or removing from the forest. Leaving slash on floor is risky as it takes time to breakdown before the next wildfire
- Ladder Fuels: Surface fuels spread quickly from brush and woody debris. Mid-height vegetation acts as a conveyance, advancing fire to the treetops or crown. A crown fire is incredibly difficult to control as embers can be windthrown
- Multidiameter thinning via mastication to support a mixed age forest
- Riparian: The August Complex has shown that no draw or creek is unsusceptible to wildfire. These areas are to be include in treatments while maintaining CEQA compliance.
- Ridgeline: Continue to capitalize on these complex zones as they play a role in fire behavior
- Trailing-Edge: Consider a shift from pine to hardwood or shrub if it isn’t too advanced to manipulate
The following are other considerations in supporting a fire-adapted Mendocino forest as identified by FireScape Mendocino’s diverse stakeholders:
- Take lessons learned from the 2018 Ranch Fire and apply to the post-August Complex recovery effort
- 2 years after the Ranch Fire – Trees rebounded from mild to moderate scorch; however, the stress from the burn made them more vulnerable and are deteriorating due to bark beetle. Drought has shown a greater degree of bark beetle activity.
- Increase mortality monitoring
- Restoration: Revert to fire-dependent ecosystems that mimic natural fire regimes. Implement prescribed fire to address remnant post-fire debris. Focus on low severity zones as opposed to mixed or moderate severity zones
- Allow succession to roll out naturally in remnant areas
- Need to plant and assist in species composition for habitat structure; lacking seed. Consider seed source distance; plant in areas far from seed source.
- Encourage mosaic pattern by targeting seeding within the interiors of large high severity patches while retaining select snags (dead trees) in small high severity patches
- Increase spacing between tree plugs for industrial timber to reduce thinning and overall eliminate added fuel loading to the forest floor
- Salvage timber: Removal for safety; target weakened trees (50% probability of death) and keep trees with a low probability of mortality
- Forest-wide NEPA