If you’ve been anywhere near a television, radio, newspaper or computer in the past few weeks, there’s no way you could have missed hearing about the raging California wildfires. The Station fire, as it’s been named, has burned through well over 160,000 acres north of Los Angeles. To date, that fire has claimed two lives, injured eight other people, destroyed over 100 buildings and has threatened thousands of homes and businesses. Perhaps even more disconcerting is the fact that the Station fire is only the eighth largest wildfire in California during the past century.
Forest fires occur virtually anywhere and at any time. California, Georgia, Florida, or New York, spring, summer, winter or fall; it really doesn’t matter, although hot and dry is the prhyme condition. Fires start from any number of natural sources, lightning being the main one, but arson and accidental fires are not uncommon either. What many people have a hard time understanding, though, is that fire is actually an important part of the natural forest cycle. Forest fires have been happening as long as there have been forests. A number of plants, including some of the big conifer trees, have evolved to require the heat of a fire in order to reproduce. Natural fires have always helped the health of forests; a quick wildfire burning through a forest would reduce deadwood, diseased trees, scrub and dried leaves, leaving the more vigorous trees unscathed with more room to grow. In other words, fires were Nature’s forest management tool. Mammoth fires on the scale of the Station fire that physically destroy absolutely everything in their path were relatively rare in the past. What’s changed in the equation is human intervention.
By constantly battling to put out any forest fires and fighting to preserve trees at all cost, humans have, in many cases, unwittingly created the ideal conditions for massive, destructive forest fires. Many progressive wood lot owners have turned to an unlikely ally to prevent this from happening. Logging companies, frequently demonized by conservationists, often have the expertise in forestry management that can help to prevent catastrophic forest fires. Using progressive techniques like selective thinning (which can also financially benefit the owner of the wood lot) or even controlled burns, these companies can restore a cluttered wood lot to a more natural state, removing excess fuel and helping ensure that any wildfires don’t spiral out of control.