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Seedling after Railroad Fire in Nelder Grove - photo USFS

The Railroad Fire And Nelder Grove One Year Later

CLOVIS – Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Railroad Fire that burned last year on the Sierra National Forest (SNF) north of Oakhurst.

The Railroad Fire, which began on Aug. 29, 2017, along Highway 41 between Sugar Pine and Fish Camp, threatened the communities in the area, closed down the highway for 11 days, and burned into the Historic Nelder Grove of Giant Sequoias, consuming 12,407 acres before it was completely contained on Oct. 24, 2017.

There have been concerns that heavy vegetation (fuels) may have contributed to fire behavior outside of what sequoias are adapted to. There were areas that saw higher intensity burning, say SNF officials, however fire crews at the time were able to moderate much of the intensity with aggressive suppression efforts.

Additionally, officials note that areas that burned with less intensity are now well on their way to being restored to a more natural fire cycle and regime, with anticipated sequoia regeneration.

Giant sequoias are fire-adapted and thrive in naturally cycling fire. Fire opens the cones and releases the tiny seeds to the nutrient-rich ash and mineral soil below — ideal conditions for this tree’s germination. Fire thins competing vegetation and trees and opens the canopy for this sun-loving species.

Forester Mike Nolen of the Bass Lake Ranger District visited Nelder Grove near the Shadow of the Giants last weekend and found sequoias starting up across the landscape, variable in density and size from one-half to seven inches tall. He also saw a few sugar pine, white fir and incense cedar seedlings.

“The location I visited was hit very hard by the fire,” said Nolen. “Life has begun again in the Railroad Fire area.”

The area visited was burned severely down to mineral soil, which creates optimal conditions for giant sequoia seedlings, says Nolen. Mineral soil means no competition and more-or-less full sunlight.

“I’ve been out there several times since last November to see how this area regenerates,” said Nolen. “There were thousands of giant sequoia and other conifer seeds per acre throughout the area in November.”

These photos were taken from the vicinity of the Shadow of the Giants trail but not on the trail itself. The trail remains closed to the public under Forest Order #05-15-51-18-01.

For all the stories of the Railroad Fire, click here.

Photos courtesy of the Sierra National Forest.

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