At a special, off-site board meeting on Sept. 25, Colusa County Supervisors Denise Carter and Kent Boes and staff from various county departments joined District 4 Supervisor Gary Evans and U.S. Forest Service officials for a tour of the portions of the Mendocino National Forest in Colusa County damaged by the Ranch Fire.
The idea for the special meeting came from Carter, who said she wanted the board to see first-hand how the Ranch Fire affected Stonyford, Lodoga, and all the other small Colusa County communities in the path of the fire.
“I wanted us to see it with our own eyes, because seeing it is a lot different from hearing about it,” Carter said.
The county contingent made its way into the forest, which is still closed to the public, along Forest Route M5. They stopped at a spot that overlooked the place where the Fouts Springs Youth Facility – which was closed in 2011 – once stood, and observed the thick containment lines cut into the hillside above it. From there, they moved to another lookout point to survey the burned area, before heading toward Evans’ property in the hills for lunch. On the drive to Evans’ property, which is surrounded on three sides by forest land and is nestled between Horse Hollow, Pacific Ridge, and Soap Stone Ridge, and Pine Needle Point, the county officials saw up close the damage the Ranch Fire had caused as it swept through the forest with alarming speed: pine needles on evergreens were frozen in place, pointing in the direction the fire was headed, and the forest floor below was barren, save for green ferns that had sprouted along creek beds.
“As we went on, it was pretty devastating when we got to the Goat Mountain area – into the pine forest,” Carter said after the meeting. “Around Gary’s house, there was pretty significant damage. That was a pretty sizable area of our county. It was the only big forested area in our county, and it pretty much burned it all –as far as you can see, just about. That one area was pretty awful.”
When asked during the meeting what percentage of the Mendocino National Forest that lies in Colusa County burned in the Ranch Fire, Evans offered a quick answer:
“100 percent. That’s a pretty easy figure to give,” Evans said. “100 percent of the forest that lies in Colusa County burned.”
The Ranch Fire, the larger of the two that composed the Mendocino Complex, burned 410,203 acres over a period of seven weeks – doing most of its damage in Lake County – before the U.S. Forest Service declared it was fully contained on Sept. 19. In total, hundreds of thousands of acres of the Mendocino National Forest were burned.
“When you think about the Mendocino Complex, and the entire fire, we were just a small piece of that fire. When you think about the 460,000 acres included this fire – that’s massive, that’s huge, and it’s going to take years to reforest it,” Carter said, adding that Colusa County had been lucky not have many structures destroyed in the fire, which firefighters successfully kept out of the more populated communities of Ladoga and Stonyford. “… We didn’t lose many structures. We were fortunate, and everyone worked hard to keep it out of our local communities up there, and I think it’s important that we thank the firefighters who protected our communities… We were blessed, even with the damage (we had).”
Boes – who is also a volunteer firefighter that has gone out on many fires on strike teams over the years, including the Ranch Fire – echoed Carter’s assessment of the damage.
“It’s devastating, but the shock value there for others was kind of lost on me. I’m not trying to downplay it, but I’ve seen it everywhere. We got lucky in Colusa County, because it’s not as densely populated out there,” Boes said. “We got lucky enough that we didn’t see the same carnage” as other counties did in recent fires.
The management of the Mendocino Complex was turned back over to the Mendocino National Forest on Sept. 24, with Jason Kraling serving as the incident commander. Kraling was on hand at the board meeting, and said suppression repair work –including seeding, dozer line repair and road repair work – was ongoing and had been underway for about four weeks. He added that the U.S. Forest Service’s Burned Area Emergency Response, or BAER, team, had completed its assessment of the fire area. The report provided information about the potential for future flooding, erosion and debris flows, and made recommendations for emergency stabilization activities that need to occur in the first year after the fire. The BAER team advised forest officials that future washouts from storm events pose general and widespread threats to safety for visitors and Forest Service employees.
Supervisors asked the forest supervisor to allow for quick salvage of damaged timber
At their meeting on Sept. 18, prior to the tour, the Board voted to send a letter to Ann Carlson, Forest Supervisor for the Mendocino National Forest, requesting a close partnership between county and forest officials as recovery efforts get underway.
“The adrenaline of the fire suppression needs to morph into a swift, focused, and sustained recovery process,” Evans said in the letter.
In particular, Evans said three items in particular were of concern to the Board, including the quick salvage of fire damaged timber; expedited implementation of the Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) Team’s recommendations; and assuring public use be reinstated in an expeditious and safe manner.
“The Ranch Fire destroyed significant amounts of salvageable timber, which will be lost of harvest plans are not expedited,” Evans wrote. “Have all parties present in the same room to move timber harvests forward would prove helpful to forest health, public safety, and a boon to the local economy… Time is of the essence. The much needed rain will soon arrive, followed by snow and with it comes a host of potential problems if quick actions are not taken.”