Scholar says Forest Service conclusion concerning Angora fire path not correct
After a first-hand look, one forest restoration specialist has drawn significantly different conclusions than the U.S. Forest Service about how and why the Angora fire burned so intensely.
Tom Bonnicksen, emeritus professor of forest science at Texas A&M and visiting scholar with the Forest Foundation, a logging industry group, toured the burned area on Monday.
“The Angora fire was a crown fire that killed all the trees that were 40-60 inches in diameter. Anybody can see that; all you have to do is look at it,” said Bonnicksen during a phone interview on Tuesday. “This was a situation where homeowners didn’t stand a chance. They were victims of the surrounding forest.”
Bonnicksen said fire racing through the top of an overly dense forest was the major cause of property damage, while Rex Norman, spokesman for the Forest Service, has repeatedly reiterated the initial findings of agency investigators.
“Many of the homes that were totally destroyed are surrounded by standing trees that were not destroyed, but were scorched, not burned,” wrote Norman in a Forest Service statement in the Tahoe Daily Tribune on Tuesday. “Indications show that the trees did not carry the fire across most of the affected areas, but that wind-driven embers did through much of the area, and ignited flammable components of structures.”
Even so, fuels reduction efforts near the southeastern boundary of the burned area were largely effective in dropping the fire from the tops of trees to the ground, limiting the destructive potential of the fire reaching the tops of trees, Norman said.
“A large number of homes were saved when these completed treatment areas on National Forest lands slowed and moderated the fire approach,” Norman wrote in the July 10 statement.
Six hundred fifty-six out of the 2,736 acres of national forest land burned by the fire had undergone modern fuels reduction treatments by the start of the fire on June 24.
An additional 60 acres were thinned, piled and awaiting prescribed burns at the fire’s onset. These acres likely responded in a similar fashion to untreated areas, Norman said during a phone interview on Tuesday.
These numbers are grossly inadequate and more needs to be done to prevent another catastrophic crown fire from destroying homes in the basin, Bonnicksen said.
“The amount of management that was taking place was too little to stop this fire,” Bonnicksen said. “Ultimately it’s the responsibility of our agencies to protect our forest, and they’re not doing it.”