Erosion, mudslide danger from American Fire damage not as bad as feared

TAHOE NATIONAL FOREST – When flames charred thousands of acres of steep and rolling slopes at the American Fire last summer, there were predictions of serious damage from erosion, possibly even mudslides.

That hasn't happened so far.

Forest Service staffers partly credit a winter with little rain and snow, along with the remediation efforts of crews soon after the fire was contained.

But nature is doing well on its own. Across entire sections of the American Fire's burn area, the earth is being held in place by the pine needles, leaves and branches the fire left behind.

On one steep ridge, trees fell in sideways patterns, creating natural terraces that are holding back the runoff from rain and snow.

"I would say it's just natural for the fire to come through here, so nature's just doing it's thing," said CSU Sacramento senior Robin Parsons, who was walking the fire's perimeter Thursday evening.

Parsons was in the Tahoe National Forest Thursday evening to work on her senior project, studying the hibernation patterns of black bears.

In places, the flames burned so hot that little is left, but the charred trunks of trees; even there, debris and fresh growth is helping hold the earth in place.

"It's natural to come through and clear the forest out and then start the regrowth process," said Clark Waskowiak, who was helping Parsons. "It provides a lot of habitat for the wild animals and a lot of shelter and everything, so it's a natural process."

Waskowiak, who's studying geography at CSU Sacramento, said he'd prefer to see fires burn uncontrolled so the forest has more frequent and less destructive fires instead of massive firestorms that destroy everything.

"Which just goes through and devastates everything and it kind of wipes out the whole ecosystem within the forest as opposed to just burning through and kind of cleaning it up and making the forest healthy again," Waskowiak said as he walked through a two inch carpet of snow.

If the burn area can survive the winter without serious damage, remediation crews will have a better chance of helping the forest grow back healthy when spring and summer return.

"Fires have been around since the beginning of Earth, so that's what it does. It's a cycle," Parsons said.

Experts have also noticed predictions of mudslides and erosion have not been as serious as feared in the areas burned by the Rim Fire in Yosemite.


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