In an effort to mitigate wildfire risks and restore fire-adapted ecosystems, the Tahoe Fire & Fuels Team is gearing up to launch its fall prescribed fire program. The program burning program began on Monday, September 25.
California State Parks is set to conduct understory burning, covering approximately 80 acres over the next three weeks in Burton Creek and Sugar Pine Point state parks. Meanwhile, the USDA Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit is preparing to initiate pile burning near Fallen Leaf Lake. As a result, residents and visitors in the Lake Tahoe area should anticipate the presence of smoke in the region.
Tthe Sierra Nevada region was shaped by low-intensity wildfires, which played a pivotal role in maintaining fire-adapted ecosystems. These fires, characterized by low temperatures and slow progression, effectively cleared forest debris, including pinecones, needles, limbs, dead trees, and ladder fuels. Prescribed fires are a method employed to mimic these natural occurrences and are integral to preserving fire-adapted ecosystems.
Prescribed fire managers utilize various techniques to eliminate excess vegetation and reintroduce low-intensity fire into forests. This includes pile, broadcast, and understory burning. Pile burning involves the controlled ignition of slash piles, either constructed by hand or mechanical equipment. Broadcast and understory burning utilize low-intensity fires to remove specific fuels under well-defined environmental conditions, with the fire confined to a predetermined area.
TFFT officials stress that prescribed fires are an essential tool employed by land managers to safeguard communities by reducing wildfire fuel loads. Furthermore, these controlled burns promote forest health by creating space for new growth, providing forage for wildlife, recycling nutrients back into the soil, and curbing the spread of insects and diseases.
Prescribed burns are scheduled based on favorable conditions, and fall and winter typically offer optimal settings due to cooler temperatures and increased precipitation. Each operation adheres to a specialized burn plan, which takes into account factors such as smoke dispersion conditions, temperature, humidity, wind, and vegetation moisture to determine when and where burning will occur.
TFFT strongly advocates the use of prescribed fire under suitable conditions and collaborates closely with air quality districts to minimize smoke impacts on the public. Authorities emphasize that smoke stemming from prescribed fires is normal and may persist for several days. However, it is important to note that prescribed fire smoke tends to be less intense and of shorter duration compared to the smoke produced by uncontrolled wildfires.