California is so hot and dry that not even soaking rain can ease fall fire peril.
Firefighters battling a blaze that has raged for 13 days along the southern edge of Yosemite National Park are using a new tactic to fight the flames: They’re digging holes where fire is fanned by strong winds. They then plant grass seed, and, with the help of firefighting airplanes, hoses, and bulldozers, they cover those ditches with shrubs “so that the grass would not grow,” said Steve Conley, U.S. Forest Manager.
“This is a unique situation, where grasses can play an important role,” he said. “If the grass grows, there is hope for these hot, dry conditions.”
California’s parched conditions have caused the state to enter its third year of drought. The state has been forced to ration water for firefighting, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has ordered the state water agency to begin purchasing as soon as possible water from the Sacramento River.
The state had expected to be in the midst of its worst wildfire season since the Great Rainy Season of 1994-95, when California’s forests burned every two or three years, killing more than 100 people, and destroying more than 4,500 homes.
No one expects the state to start that kind of fire season the next time it is this dry. But Conley and his team are hoping the dirt-hutting may help prevent the same type of blazes that torched and destroyed so many homes in southern California in recent years.
“We know it’s going to be hard to stop a wildfire when the wind is blowing, unless you build it into a firebreak,” Conley said. “This is a little different; if you have grass on the ditch, then the grass has a chance to grow.”
To learn more about the grass-seed technique, the team took a helicopter to the site this week to collect field notes on the operation. The helicopter landed at a spot about two miles west of the Sierra Nevada Recreation Area and YCSU’s Arboretum for a helicopter crew that includes firefighters, biologists who study fire behavior, and experts on fire ecology.
Firefighters have been fighting the blaze since they arrived Monday morning. But as of Thursday night