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Wildfire season slows. Time to set the good kind of fire in and near Tuolumne County

Prescribed burning, designed to reduce the fuel for catastrophic fires, will ramp up in and near Tuolumne County starting this week.

One of the projects will be in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, home to giant sequoias that are at risk if the undergrowth gets too thick. Others will be in foothill grassland and oaks and in a part of the Stanislaus National Forest.

Land managers do the intentional burning at times of the year when it is unlikely to get out of control. They advise residents there will be smoke, while reminding them that unplanned infernos produce far more.

Prescribed burning emerged in the 1970s, after decades of fire suppression led to a buildup of fuel. Experts say the burning mimics the beneficial fires sparked by lightning and past Native Americans.

In some cases, conifers are thinned from dense timber stands before the prescribed fires are set. This produces logs for Tuolumne County’s two sawmills and wood chips that generate electricity.

Experts say prescribed fires enhance habitat for many creatures, such as deer feeding on fresh shoots. They also can add to soil fertility and improve the watersheds for Central Valley farms and cities.

Details on the plans, which could be postponed because of wind or other risky conditions:

  • Calaveras Big Trees: Burning is scheduled to start on or around Monday on 382 acres in the northwest part of the park. It will run through November.
  • Crook Ranch: This expanse of grass and oaks north of Groveland will get about 400 acres of burning Monday. It will be conducted by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
  • Whittle Ranch: Burning is set for Tuesday and Wednesday on about 450 acres of grass, brush and oaks west of Angels Camp, another Cal Fire project.
  • Sardella Ranch: About 40 acres of grass and oaks southeast of Sonora will be burned Thursday. Cal Fire will do it as part of training for firefighting supervisors from around the state.
  • Jawbone Creek: Burning is set for up to five days in late October on 873 acres in this part of the Stanislaus National Forest northeast of Groveland. It will reduce both natural fuel accumulations and woody waste from recent logging.

The national forest has done extensive burning already, thanks to the relatively slow wildfire season, spokeswoman Shandy Bearden said. The year’s total stands at 5,766 acres. Logging and other fuel-reduction methods bring the total to 20,451 acres.

Yosemite National Park does not have any prescribed burns scheduled for autumn, but could do some in late winter, spokeswoman Jamie Richards said. The park was a pioneer in returning fire to the landscape.

John Holland covers breaking news and has been with The Modesto Bee since 2000. He has covered agriculture for the Bee and at newspapers in Sonora and Visalia. He was born and raised in San Francisco and has a journalism degree from UC Berkeley.
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