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Q&A on Yosemite's Big Meadow fire

September 2, 2009 |  4:37 pm

The Big Meadow fire as viewed from Tioga Road last Thursday.

The Big Meadow fire in Yosemite National Park started when a prescribed burn got out of control. Many have questioned the practice of controlled burns, including Outposts readers. A community meeting was Friday in El Portal with the park's acting superintendent, Dave Uberuaga, and other wildfire incident leaders replying to questions from local residents. Following are four of the most frequently asked questions and answers, as posted on inciweb.org:

Q: Why did the National Park Service ignite the Big Meadow fire in August?

A: The Big Meadow prescribed fire was initiated based upon a written and predetermined "window" of very specific conditions (temperature, humidity, fuel type, wind speed, smoke dispersal, etc.). At the time of ignition, all conditions were within this window. Prescribed fires may be done any month of the year depending upon the objectives of the burn.

Q: Why couldn't the meadow be burned in much cooler conditions?

A: The park uses prescribed fire to accomplish specific objectives. In the case of the Big Meadow fire, those objectives were meadow restoration and the maintenance of fire resistant vegetation for the Foresta community. For vegetation to burn, it must be sufficiently dry and flammable to maintain a fire. The prescription for the Big Meadow burn was based upon these objectives.

Q: What went wrong then?

A: The development of the prescription window and its review and sign-off are processes that agencies have carefully developed to minimize the risk of a fire escape. However, when dealing with all the complexities that can affect a fire, it is nearly impossible to reduce risk to zero. The National Park Service will conduct a careful review once the fire is extinguished.

Q: Will someone be held accountable for the fire and the damage it has done?

A: In the National Park Service, prescribed fire plans are reviewed and approved by multiple individuals and then authorized by the superintendent or his/her representative. Any escaped prescribed fire requires a review once the fire is extinguished. The review will include independent, knowledgeable fire professionals and will produce findings. Based upon those findings, the agency may take further actions including those that might affect responsible officials.

--Kelly Burgess

Photo: The Big Meadow fire as viewed Thursday from Tioga Road.

Credit: Kip Evans /  (c) KipEvansPhotography.com