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Kings Canyon - Fighting the forest fire

Deanna Keahey  ·  Aug 24, 2010  ·  1 Comment

As we drove through Kings Canyon, I knew there was a forest fire burning nearby. I just didn't expect one of the firefighting helicopters to descend right next to us! It came down to refill its bucket from the river, while a ranger halted our car beside the bridge. So there I was, filming it with an iPod out the top of the convertible...

Kings Canyon is a gorgeous national park. It's in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, just north of Sequoia National Park. The two adjoining parks are managed together, and encompass some remarkable scenery.  The tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, Mt. Whitney, and 11 additional "14ers" (mountains over 14,000 feet high) are along the eastern boundary of the parks.

Meadow in Kings Canyon

Meadow in Kings Canyon

The King's Canyon itself is arguably the deepest canyon in North America for a short distance.  The confluence of the Kings River's South and Middle forks is at 2,260 feet, while Spanish Peak towers almost 8,000 feet above them (10,051 ft).

When you drive into King's Canyon from the west, the road twists and turns, down, and down, and down some more, until you're winding through the bottom of the canyon, with steep granite walls stretching high above you. It's a spectacular drive, especially if you're a passenger.  If you're driving, you'd better keep your eyes on the road! :-)

We knew from the signs posted at the visitor center that there was an active forest fire burning in the park. As we neared Cedar Grove (one of the major visitor areas in the park), we smelled smoke, and soon even saw smoldering spots with smoke rising, just a few feet from the road. There were rangers and white trucks marked with FIRE, in key places along the road.

The Sheep Fire was burning on the south side of the road, while right over on the north side, there were numerous tents up in the campground. I know the rangers would get those people out if they were in danger, but I don't think I'd be sleeping too well at night, knowing the fire was that close!

All the responsible people we saw seemed professional, and in control. The fire update from that day (Saturday, August 22nd) wasn't quite so calm:

The fire spread across containment lines west of Cedar Grove on Saturday. The parks’ Crew 91 worked hard in steep terrain to construct a new fireline along the edge of the fire. They were assisted by the parks’ Helicopter 552, which ran cycles of bucket drops to cool the fire for Crew 91 below. The helicopter used the Kings River as a water dip site. This new handline is holding well."

This fire started naturally, sparked by a lightning strike. I was happy to see that it wasn't a discarded cigarette or non-extinguished campfire that was to blame. Though it's burning very close to the main road in the park, the campground, and other facilities, at the moment there are no threats to life or property. It has been burning for over a month (since July 16), and obviously they are watching it closely and taking preventive action as needed.

Forest fires are a part of nature, and occasional fires are necessary for a healthy forest. They clear out old wood, leaving space, sunlight, and replenished soil so that new growth can occur. Also, some species can only reproduce when a forest fire creates the right conditions for them. Of course there are risks, but either controlled burns started on purpose, or natural blazes that are allowed to burn, are good for the forest overall.

That still doesn't mean I'd be camping across the road from it, though! smiley

National Park Service, Fire Management - Sheep Fire
Meet Crew 91 (currently fighting the fire)

I just got back from backpacking in Sequoia National Park, which was gorgeous.  August is a perfect month for the higher elevations, with sunny warm days, blue skies, wildflowers galore, and cool evenings.  The main tourist areas were crowded, but once we got off the beaten path...  But that's another story!  (Coming soon)

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Categories: California · So there we were... · Video
Posted from:   Tucson, AZ       Photo credit:   Deanna Keahey

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Amor B. // Nov 19, 2010 at 10:06 am

    Deanna, I watched Avatar a couple of weeks ago and this article reminded me of that movie. Call me corny, but I feel for the forest. Or at least for what we are losing... Remember, how butterflies would amaze us when we were kids then?

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