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A New Kind of Fire Season

This from Yosemite National Park

Fall has arrived bringing cooler temperatures and precipitation in the forecast. With these favorable conditions approaching, Yosemite National Park hopes to build on its 51-year legacy of prescribed burning by conducting several prescribed fires in the Valley, Crane Flat, and Studhorse (Wawona) areas as conditions allow. In addition, pile burning is also planned in several other locations throughout the park.

Prescribed fire is the most efficient and effective way to decrease the risk of unwanted wildfires by reducing excessive fuel build-up, improve habitat for wildlife, mitigate future smoke impacts, encourage sprouting of seedling sequoia trees, restore cultural burning practices, and creating more drought and fire resilient forests.

All these benefits are accomplished by burning piles of pre-stacked wood and debris or by doing larger scale broadcast burns in strategic areas within the park. Prescribed burn units have been carefully designed to meet multiple objectives. Each prescribed burn unit has defined weather parameters and firing patterns to ensure the objectives for each unit have a high potential for success. Yosemite fire and resources staff will monitor all prescribed burns to evaluate achievement of goals and help guide future prescriptions.

This year has been one of the most devasting fire seasons on record nationally. Record acreage burned, loss of life, loss of homes, businesses and infrastructure have exceeded past years totals. Loss to such species as the Giant Sequoias, which only grow in California’s Sierra Nevada, have been devastating. It is estimated that between 2020 and this year well over 10% of Sequoias have been lost to wildfire. Prescribed burning is one of the most effective tools to mitigate the risk of unwanted wildfire, reduce fire intensity, and protect infrastructure and natural resources.

Crane Flat

Units A, B, C: 461 acres

The units in Crane Flat are located along the intersection of Big Oak Flat Road and Tioga Road, south of the Crane Flat Look-out Road and Rockefeller Grove, and east of Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias.

The prescribed burn objectives are to provide protection to the Crane Flat helibase, surrounding infrastructure, and Crane Flat campground. This maintenance burn will restore a more natural ecosystem structure to plant communities. It will provide a buffer above the Big Oak Flat Road and will enable fire managers to plan for a prescribed burn in the Merced Grove of Giant Sequoias. This burn is the first sequence enabling the Park to reintroduce fire in the Merced Grove of Giant Sequoias. Reintroducing fire will be the best way to protect the grove from future high severity wildfires.


Units 1-5: 261 acres

The units in Studhorse are located south of the community of Wawona and north of Highway 41, and 2 miles northwest of the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.

The prescribed burn objectives are to maintain healthy, resilient forests, provide community protection around the community of Wawona, and to provide protection to the surrounding communities. This burn is also the first sequence to enabling the Park to continue to prescribe burn within Mariposa Grove and reintroduce fire in the surrounding units to provide protection to the groves. Some of the first prescribed burns in Yosemite occurred in the Studhorse area in the 1970s.

Yosemite Valley

Units 11,13,15,16: 222 acres

These 4 units average 50 acres in size. Unit 11 is located south of Southside Drive near the El Capitan Crossover and Unit 16 is located between Southside Drive and the Four Mile trailhead loop. These two units will likely be burned during the same day. Unit 13 is in the El Capitan Picnic Area and unit 15 is located between the Merced River and Northside Drive about halfway between Yosemite Lodge and El Capitan. Units 13 and 15 will most likely be burned during the same day.

The Yosemite Valley Burn Plan is comprised of 30 units within the upper and lower Yosemite Valley and 5 Parkwide units located east and west of the valley. The objectives of the Yosemite Valley prescribed burns are to restore and maintain plant communities shaped by Native Americans, restore fire and a more natural ecosystem structure to communities, maintain meadows and healthy stands of conifers, and provide protection to infrastructure.

Black Oak restoration and pile burning

Calaveras Healthy Impact Product Solutions (CHIPS) crew composed of local residents and tribal members have been working on restoring California black oak groves in Yosemite Valley through tending in preparation for pile and prescribed burning. Black oak is a cultural keystone species for the park's seven affiliated tribes. Groves in Yosemite Valley were planted, tended, burned, and harvested by tribal members for centuries. They were removed from this role to the detriment of cultural traditions and the health of black oaks. Tribal and CHIPS crew members will tend to oaks and prepare the groves for prescribed burns. These activities will reestablish relationships with these groves, promote seedling and sapling recruitment and promote high-quality acorn production.

Residents and visitors should be aware that smoke will be present during all prescribed burning operations. Fire managers work closely with Park staff and the local air pollution control districts to time the prescribed burns to coincide with favorable weather and smoke dispersion conditions. Smoke impacts are always a consideration in the decision to begin any prescribed burning operation. Burning will only be conducted under favorable dispersal conditions as specified in the smoke permit.

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