Following the worst local fire season in recorded history when the Rough Fire, a lightning-caused wildfire, consumed more than 150,000 acres in 2015, National Park Service fire managers were able to get things back to normal this week. “Normal,” that is, when June weather usually accommodates a prescribed fire or two.
So on Saturday, June 11, after a recent wet weather system passed through the area, NPS firefighters began ignitions of the Goliath Prescribed Burn in Redwood Canyon. It is fitting that the first prescribed fire of the season be ignited in Redwood Canyon, home to the largest giant sequoia grove on the planet and also the birthplace of prescribed fire in the West.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was the result of several “controlled burns,” as they used to be called, in Redwood Canyon where researchers discovered that sequoias depend on fire (or high heat) to regenerate and also observed the effects of the varying intensities of fire. One thing that all the fire experts of today agree upon is that the lessons learned on Redwood Mountain are the foundation of the modern science that has influenced fire management programs nearly everywhere and across varying government agencies.
When one of those initial Redwood Canyon fires burned out of control and hotter than expected, the public was outraged. Yet, surprisingly, a few years later at the scene of this incident, sequoia seedlings were growing in high density. Where fire bosses took the heat, giant sequoias flourished.
This is currently occurring in the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park where the Rough Fire raged last summer and fall. Seedlings are sprouting in abundance.
Now four decades later, lessons learned at Redwood Canyon have taught a new generation of firefighters that they must revisit areas of past fires and continuously burn to reduce hazardous fuel loads. Recent prescribed fires in the Grant Grove were credited with slowing the Rough Fire enough that the General Grant Tree and other giant sequoias could be protected.
On Wednesday, June 15, burn technicians ignited another 300 acres, the last sizable segment to be completed in the total Goliath project area of 759 acres. The final 35 acres was ignited yesterday (Thursday, June 16).
Smoke impacts from the smoldering burn are expected to continue for a few more days at various times near Grant Grove, at Montecito-Sequoia, and in the North Fork and Middle Fork drainages of the Kaweah River.
The Fallen Goliath, a longtime dead-and-down sequoia in the Redwood Mountain Grove and the namesake of this current prescribed fire, was in the news in May 2014 when a human-caused fire was discovered burning inside the massive log. Firefighters kept a watchful eye on the area as the stubborn blaze smoldered.
The Redwood Canyon and Hart Tree trails are closed during the Goliath Prescribed Burn operations. Fire personnel are stationed in the area near the trailheads to escort hikers through the area when travel is necessary.