Desperate efforts underway to keep the forests of the Sierra from exploding in flames

FRESNO COUNTY (KFSN) -- Crews are frantically trying to clear out some of the 29 million dead pine trees that pose the greatest threat to lives and property.

It's spring and the forests of the Sierra have the orange hues of autumn, but, it's the color of death. Millions of trees killed because of drought and insect infestation and as the weather warms, they are a massive fire danger. That's why Shawna Legaraza of the US Forest Service said there's a rush to cut down as many as possible.

"We are looking at a horrible potential with the tree mortality. Just a year ago we had 29 million less dead trees. In one year, 29 million dead trees and more in the years to come, so it is a disaster."

With no way to get to most of the trees the Forest Service and Cal Fire are working together to reduce the fire threat where they can

"There is no possible way for us to remove 29 million dead trees, so the key here is prioritizing, statewide, the immediate life hazard issues that we can try to mitigate," said Ken Pimlott, Cal Fire.

Cal Fire and the Forest Service are trying to put the wood to good use. Portable sawmills are being brought in to turn some of it into lumber, but there's little demand for this kind of wood. Most of the logs will be piled up and left on the ground, some will be turned into wood chips.

"I think it's an outstanding effort by Cal Fire. I'm really happy for those guys," said Chuck Reynolds, Pine Ridge resident.

Crews are working in the Pine Ridge area near Shaver Lake. Long time resident Reynolds was pleased with the work but upset by the loss of so many trees.

"That just absolutely breaks my heart. The woods-- it's my sanctuary."

The death of the trees and their removal will result in a major change to the mountain landscape, and much of the burden of tree removal will fall on those who live here.

"The law states the homeowner is responsible for all the vegetation management within 100 feet of their structures," said Richard Bagley, HWY 168 Fire Safe Council.

Getting one dead tree removed can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. But for folks needing firewood, the trees felled on Forest Service land will mean an abundant supply.

Legarza said, "Absolutely. If you need to cut firewood, go to your local Forest Service District Office and get a permit to help cut firewood, you bet, we love to have your help."
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