Tree Die-Off Near Merced River Poses Threat as Wildfire Burns Near Yosemite
The Ferguson fire burning through Mariposa County has already charred nearly 10,000 acres and killed a firefighter working the front lines.
But its true destructiveness might lie ahead as it burns a path through a tinderbox already primed for disaster.
On either side of the Merced River, hillsides are filled with trees that have been killed by five years of drought and a bark beetle infestation, according to state maps. The ground is carpeted with bone-dry pine needles, which are highly combustible. These conditions, combined with dry, hot weather, have officials fearful that the fire could grow far worse as it burns near Yosemite National Park.
Fire “moves very fast through dead needles, and dead trees produce a lot of dead needles,” said Mike Beasley, a fire behavior analyst for the U.S. Forest Service. “The dead pine needles, no matter where they end up, whether they’re still in the tree or draped in some old, decadent brush, or laying on the ground, they contribute significantly to rapid rates of spread.”
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