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Tool Box fire recovery progressing well

By all appearances, recovery from the devastating 2001 Winter Rim and Tool Box fire is on the right track toward improved conditions all around.

Retired Forest Service soils scientist Desi Zamudio said that the continued progress is an indicator of how prescribed burning can be used as a tool in promoting forest health.

Zamudio provided Lake County’s Board of Commissioners with a PowerPoint presentation that featured numerous images that illustrated the progress so far.

In August 2001, lightning sparked off a composite of fires south of Silver Lake as well as a front across Winter Rim.

The fires grew together, encompassing a total of 93,000 acres, Zamudio said, following an estimated 300 individual lightning strikes.

Suppression efforts, at that time, encompassed a solid block of month’s time, Zamudio said, largely due to the staggered nature of the fire.

The recovery effort commenced in the fall of 2001 with seeding efforts, Zamudio said, as well as construction of log barriers for erosion control.

Grass plantings were a key part of stabilizing the lands and soil, he noted, and contemporary examinations have indicated the landscape is well on its way in the recovery process.

Groundcover is an important part of recovery following a major fire event, Zamudio said.

One indicator to note that demonstrates this point following nine years of recovery time is two whorls of ponderosa pines rising above the lower-level shrubs.

In other areas that suffered similar catastrophic fire events, such as Montana and Idaho, it took some 50 years to get to this point, which Zamudio said was largely due to a lack of ground cover.

Streamside habitats are also showing improvement, with willows and alder returning, broadening the habitat width, Zamudio said.

The return of aspens is an indicator of the water system reaching a point of balance, he noted.

Prescribed burning is a tool used over the years to manage forest health through fuels reduction, and in the case of this recovery process has proven to be effective when properly implemented, Zamudio said.

“So it shows we can do a good job when we use prescribed fire,” he said. “You don’t get a ‘yuck’ landscape, you get a (pleasant) landscape.”

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