The recent article by J.P. Crumrine in the Town Crier accurately captures the primary ideas of my recent talk on Idyllwild’s fire crisis. Citizens of Idyllwild must realize that nature, combined with fire suppression, are driving the community to fire disaster. Plants reproduce, grow and accumulate energy; plants uptake water until soils desiccate by autumn; and dry summers desiccate vegetation to flammable states, endlessly.
Under free-burning before the 20th century, fires passed through Idyllwild twice a century, fatally injuring young trees but leaving open parks of large trees. Suppression has postponed fire in Idyllwild for 130 years, and consequently, forests are now dense with young trees, or fuel “ladders.” That very ground canopy so desired for privacy will spread the next fire through Idyllwild. Crumrine made explicit the necessity of transforming Idyllwild’s forest by tree thinning, branch removal up 15 to 30 feet and needle removal. Grinders and chippers, and a biomass combustion plant for electricity will make a fire-safe Idyllwild an economically viable project. Everyone needs to buy in to assure the long-term integrity of the town.
Last summer’s Mountain Fire also brought opportunity for planned burns. Fires can be established to thin forests from above town to the “Saddle” and Tahquitz Peak, and the Mountain burn can then act as a fuelbreak. The positive benefits of planned burns require a visit to the newly thinned forests of the Tahquitz backcountry.
Idyllwild must be proactive with fire as an earth-surface process. Exclusive reliance on fire suppression only buys time. Every acre “saved” by suppression is also an acre of fuel that will bite you later.
In a letter to the Crier, Halsey’s citation of a 300,000-acre fire in 1889 was based on a single hyperbole, characteristic of 19th century newspapers. Our research group critically examined evidence to show that the fire was only 20,000 acres.
He and colleagues made claim of universal large fires based on a single anecdote. The relationship of the Silver Fire with Idyllwild is comparing apples and oranges. The Silver Fire near Banning fed on introduced exotic grasses, not chaparral or mixed-conifer forest. His criticisms and defamation of my research reflect his political agenda more than science. He supports suppression that has led to the emergence of megafires. In 2000-09, fires burned 3 million acres in Southern California alone, and destroyed thousands of structures. I hope Idyllwild can do better.
Dr. Richard Minnich