There will never be a way to completely eliminate forest fires. And they should not be completely eliminated, for they serve an important role in a forest ecosystem. In fact, in the past few decades, science has developed a more enlightened view of forest fires that trumps fears that the blazes kill off forests, creating wastelands for generations. Most people now understand that fires are needed in forest environments to create new growth, even though that means killing off some flora.
But the old way of preventing forest fires, and fighting those that spring up, still perseveres. And misguided management hindered by a lack of funds, combined with drought conditions in a tinderbox area of the Sierra Nevada, helped create the perfect conditions in which the Rim Fire rapidly spread...
A truly natural forest has a range of differently sized trees that sprouted and grew during different years. The unnatural forest created by the Forest Service was of a uniform size, and it was allowed to grow dense without thinning due to a lack of funds, a former Forest Service worker told The Los Angeles Times.
At the same time these new trees were growing atop the area's steep hillsides, the federal government was sticking with old fire-suppression guidelines that date back to World War II and had more to do with protecting trees for lumber than healthy forest management.
In some national parks, including Yellowstone and Yosemite, naturally occurring fires that didn't threaten structures or people were allowed to burn. And in other places, prescribed burns were used to mimic natural fires. But outside the national parks, putting out fires quickly was the norm and prescribed burns were rare. In places such as the area where the Rim Fire has spread, built-up undergrowth helps the blazes spread quicker and burn hotter, incinerating young-growth trees, such as all those planted pines.