Yosemite National Park May Be Conducting Prescribed Burns Beginning October 23

by Caitlin Berard
(Photo by edb3_16 via Getty Images)

With tens of thousands of wildfires scorching the Earth every year, causing unfathomable amounts of damage to natural and residential areas alike, setting a forest on fire on purpose might seem counterintuitive. Fire, however, is an integral tool in the maintenance of a healthy ecosystem.

According to ecology experts, forests allowed to grow unchecked will actually become overgrown and unhealthy. As such, natural spaces like Yosemite National Park have regular “prescribed burns” in which the forest is thinned, opening the canopy and allowing the plants below to receive sunlight.

These prescribed burns also reduce hazardous debris and allow important nutrients to return to the soil. Rather than harming the forest, burns promote healthy regrowth of plants, shrubs, and trees.

To ensure that the fire doesn’t get out of hand, the burns are conducted by fire experts, who carefully manage and study the blaze. Additionally, prescribed burns only take place under ideal conditions. This is particularly important in an area like Yosemite National Park, as wildfires in California are all too common.

Yosemite National Park Preparing for ‘Potential’ Prescribed Burn

As Yosemite expects rainfall in the coming days, park officials are preparing to conduct a prescribed burn beginning on Sunday, October 23. In a news release, the National Parks Service explained that it will take place “along Southside Drive in Yosemite Valley.”

“There are multiple piles located near El Capitan Crossover that, if conditions allow, burning may occur there first,” they continued. “Depending on continued permissible conditions, burning may extend from El Capitan Crossover toward Sentinel Beach.”

The NPS also warned that traffic closures may occur, in addition to trail closures, if they move forward with the burning. Though smoke will be present during and after the burn, Yosemite National Park will remain open. Once the burning is complete, the roads and trails will re-open.

“Burning under favorable conditions helps to create a healthier forest and lowers the risk of more dangerous fires in the future,” the NPS said. “Native plants benefit and invasive ones are more controlled.”

‘Burn Boss’ Explains Importance of Prescribed Burns

Behind every prescribed burn, such as the one in Yosemite National Park, is a “burn boss”. This is a professional qualified to create intentional blazes to manage and restore forest and prairie ecosystems.

The burn boss is tasked with planning when and where to create the fire. In addition, he or she must manage it safely and effectively. And though they have a team of firefighters working alongside them, the bulk of the responsibility rests on the burn boss’ shoulders.

It can be a high-stress job. But burn boss Elliot Medina understands the importance of prescribed burns for our favorite natural spaces. “Fire wakes up the native seed bank and native vegetation that lives at a site,” Medina explained to Forest Preserves of Cook County. “Just that little boost by fire it can begin to thrive again.”