As tragic as the Yosemite fire is, barreling its way through forests and burning nearly everything in its path, I learned on a recent tour (before the Rim Fire started) that wildfires are a necessary part of the ecosystem of the Sierra Nevadas and Yosemite. I was really amazed that the bus driver (right photo) spent so much time talking about fires and showing examples of where they had previously burned. She said that many plants and trees are reliant on fire for regeneration and growth. From fleeing birds and animals carrying seeds on their feathers or fur, thus spreading them elsewhere, to the fire's explosive effect of opening seed cones that require intense heat for regeneration, the forest has maintained its own natural balance for thousands of years. Fire has always played a critical role in the health of the forest.
Our Yosemite tour guide drove past examples of prescribed burns and
explained how vegetation and fallen dead material are burned in an effort to
eliminate any fuel that could contribute to a high intensity fire in the
future. Unfortunately, she said, their staff and resources are limited, but
they do the best they can. That's one thing I learned.
The other thing I learned was to don't drink water from the streams. The bus driver tried it when she first moved to Yosemite years ago, and she got really, really sick from Cryptosporidium. She said she was sick for many months. The fire in Yosemite can threaten the water supply that flows from the mountains and serves major cities throughout California. Of course, the water is treated before it reaches your faucet at home!