12 million California trees killed by drought, increasing fire danger

PINERIDGE, Calif. (KFSN) -- Millions of trees are dying off in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, a symptom of the severe drought according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Fire risks are reaching peaks in the mountains and on the Valley floor. Many of the dead Sierra trees are found in mountains in Fresno and Tulare counties.

The fire risk is extreme but the Forest Service is also concerned for public safety. All the dead trees, they say, could lead to falling tree limbs or entire tree trunks.

Dry grasslands sparked up in five separate locations Monday in Fresno County, taking a massive toll on resources but sparing any buildings.

Up in the mountains, a sign of what's to come, patches of brown, dead trees. Twelve million trees across the state dried up since last year, according to a recent survey by the U.S. Forest Service.

The dead trees are a major worry for Pineridge homeowner Teresa Zurcher. "We keep our underbrush cleared and we mow the grass and keep it all low so that there's not a lot of fuel underneath," she said. "And, of course, taking out the dead trees."

As trees continue to die off, the amount of fuel for massive wildfires, like the extremely destructive Rim Fire, only grows. "It's going to be able to carry that fire from the ground up into the treetops a lot quicker, easier and make firefighting a lot more dangerous this year," said U.S. Forest Service Timber Management Officer Michael Price.

The main focus right now is mitigating dangers, Price said. "The public should be aware that as trees die, where they recreate they're going to want to avoid those dead trees cause parts and pieces or the entire tree can fall down."

Crews are working to remove trees that may fall at campsites and near roads, the areas most at risk for danger.

On the Valley floor, the fire risk is also there. At least one brush fire Monday was sparked by a car. "Accidents do happen and with the tender dry fuels we have if you're towing a vehicle or have a vehicle malfunction and you pull off the road just be extremely careful; the grass is dry," said Cal Fire's Ryan Michaels.

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