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Fuel Break Helps Limit the Oak Fire



Visitors coming to the Sierra Outdoor School this year will notice something different on the drive in: a wildfire scar along a section of Old Oak Ranch Road from the Oak Fire. On September 8th two fires started along Big Hill Road and quickly burned up hill and joined together. The fire reached Old Oak Ranch Road before the fire was contained about half a mile away from the school. The fire burned 108 acres.


Oak Fire as seen from Sonora.  photo mymotherlode.com Steve Leontic

Oak Fire near Old Oak Ranch Road.  Photo mymotherlode.com




Besides the quick response of local firefighters and aircraft, a recently completed fuel break played a crucial role in slowing progression of the fire and limiting its spread. Work on the two-mile long, 300-foot wide shaded fuel break was started in September 2014 and finished that spring. The goal of this project was to provide fire protection to the local area and improve forest health. Fuel breaks will not stop a fire themselves, but slow a fire’s spread and provide defensible space. On September 8th that’s what it did. 



An example of a shaded fire break similar to the one on Old Oak Ranch Road. The picture on the left shows the forest before treatment with dead trees and thick brush.  The picture on the right shows the same forest after treatment. A shaded firebreak is not a clear cut.  Vegetation and other flammables are reduced under the canopy.   Dead trees and tall brush are removed so not to serve as a fire ladder to the canopy.  Ground brush is removed to reduce flammable material.  Trees are selected for removal to create breaks in the canopy and lower limbs and dead limbs are removed from trees.   Uncleared, overgrown forest next to the fuel break along Old Oak Ranch Road averaged about 200 trees per acre, treated areas in the fuel break averaged around 40 trees per acre.  Photos Texas Land Trust

The Picture on the left is from the Cone Fire Northern California. The fire burned quickly through the overgrown forest. The crowded forest allowed fire to reach the and burn the canopy. The picture on the right is from a shaded fuel break in the Cone fire. Note the tree spacing from thinning, lower limbs trimmed, brush cleared, and no ladder fuels allowing ground fire to climb to canopy. Here the fire burned slowly and cool. Photos American River Watershed Institute. 

“The fuels reduction work done on Old Oak Ranch Road, by the Highway 108 Fire Safe Council, was instrumental in keep the fire on the ground and not up in the crown of trees” SOS Director Mike Olenchalk remarked. As the fire raced up the hillside, the drought stricken trees burst into flames and the fire soon was burning in the tree tops. When the fire encountered the shaded fire break, the fire was only able to burn along the ground and unable continue its spread in the forest canopy. This bought valuable time for people to evacuate and for first responders to arrive on scene. The fuel break created defensible space from which firefighters could attack the fire.

“Cooperators on this fire break project included the Forest Service, Cal Fire, the California Department of Corrections, PG&E, TUD, Old Oak Ranch Conference Center, Sierra Outdoor School and the Highway 108 FireSafe Council.” Stated president of the Highway 108 FireSafe Council Glenn Gottschall. The project funded was with federal grant funds.

Additional fuels reduction projects are continuing around and on campus to provide fire protection to the local area.

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