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Siskiyou Mountain Range

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2020 Red Salmon Fire Report

The Red Salmon Fire started on July 26, 2020 as series of lightning ignitions deep in the backcountry in the western Trinity Alps Wilderness Area. The stubborn, often slow-moving fire burned for over five months throughout the Trinity Alps Wilderness and the surrounding Salmon River, Klamath River and Trinity River watersheds. Throughout the extended burn period, the fireĀ  burned under a wide variety of weather conditions, through diverse vegetation, through a patchwork of relatively recent fire footprints, and into long unburned forests at the headwaters of Red Cap Creek. Ecologically speaking, the mixed severity fire effects were highly beneficial and restored fire to over 140,000 acres in the western Klamath Mountains.

Red Salmon Fire
A beautiful sunrise from Red Cap Prairie, looking northwest across the western edge of the Red Salmon Fire area and the Trinity Alps Wilderness Area to the Siskiyou Mountains.

Merging with a patchwork of previous fire footprints, the Red Salmon Fire added to the already complex pattern of burn severity across this diverse landscape. Some forests and woodlands burned at moderate to high severity, leaving patches of fire blackened, dead standing vegetation and abundant snag habitat. Still larger portions of the landscape underburned at low severity, maintaining the green forest canopy, while at the same time burning and rejuvenating the forest’s understory species. Montane chaparral also burned in a mosaic pattern, leaving patches of dense live chaparral adjacent to swaths of top-killed vegetation.

Prairie habitat near Red Cap Hole was restored by the Red Salmon Fire.

The Red Salmon Fire also burned through historic and culturally important bunchgrass prairie habitat in and around Red Cap Prairie and Red Cap Hole. Unique and exceptional wildlife habitats, these prairies are also both historic and contemporary hunting and gathering sites for the surrounding Hoopa, Yurok and Karuk tribes. Following many years of fire suppression and the cessation of cultural burning practices, some of these isolated grassland habitats had been colonized by young conifers and were beginning to close in, shading out native grasses, wildflowers and prairie species. Yet, in recent years, the pattern of repeat burning has restored prairie habitat to many historic habitats on Horse Trail Ridge.

By mid- November 2020, the Red Salmon Fire was naturally extinguished in the backcountry by fall rain and snow, rather than fire suppression crews. Loose herded into the backcountry and away from remote Salmon River communities, the fire was allowed to essentially burn unchecked in very remote locations during moderate fall burn conditions.

Although much of the Red Salmon Fire was located within designated Wilderness, and in the end burned into such remote country that it could not be contained, it was aggressively and at times inappropriately suppressed. In the early stages of the fire crews bulldozed five miles across the Trinity Alps Wilderness on Packsaddle Ridge and Horse Trail Ridge. Large portions of Horse Trail Ridge National Recreation Trail were churned by bulldozers to facilitate tactical burning and holding operations inside the Trinity Alps Wilderness. Fire crews also utilized masticators on portions of Horse Trail Ridge and the adjacent National Recreation Trail; however, these firelines did not hold and the fire continued burning to the west, where it was contained outside the Trinity Alps Wilderness Area on a major road system above the Hoopa Reservation.

The South Fork Salmon River sustained largely low severity fire effects in the 2020 Red Salmon Fire.

Klamath Forest Alliance has released the 2020 Red Salmon Fire Report to explore the ecology and management of the Red Salmon Fire. This report explores the natural fire mosaic, the unfortunate impact of discretionary fire suppression activities, and the increased use of ineffective wilderness dozerlines during regional fire events. We also provide recommendations for future fire management. Please read the full report at this link.

Read the full 2020 Red Salmon Fire Report

The Klamath-Siskiyou Fire Report Program

Do you love the wildlands of the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains? Are you concerned about the impact of discretionary fire suppression activities and wilderness bulldozing during fire events? Are you interested in the ecology of fire in our region and the actual on-the-ground effects of wildfire in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains? The Klamath-Siskiyou Fire Report Program is the only regional conservation project focused directly on the reform of fire management and fire suppression policy in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. To restore fire across this landscape and maximize its benefit we must challenge and reimagine the industrial fire suppression paradigm in our backcountry habitats. We must also learn to manage wildfire, restore its beneficial effects in fire starved landscapes, minimize fire suppression impacts on irreplaceable wildlands and protect homes and communities from wildfire impacts through a home outward approach. Our Klamath-Siskiyou Fire Report Program aims to change the way we relate to wildfire, deepen our understanding of regional wildfires and encourage the responsible management of fire in our backcountry habitats.

Please support this work!