Next steps on the Mendocino Complex WILLOWS, Calif. — The Ranch and River fires started in late July and combined they burned 459,123 acres across federal, state, tribal and private lands. The Ranch Fire is 98 percent contained at 410,203 acres and the River Fire is fully contained at 48,920 acres. The Ranch Fire is the largest wildland fire in California history and it’s not out yet. After the fire is fully contained, there will be a lot of repair and restoration work to accomplish in the years ahead.
The priorities for the incident remain firefighter and public safety. Fire crews assigned to the incident continue to repair firelines constructed during suppression operations. Suppression repair work has been completed on 70 percent of the 672 miles of fireline that were constructed. Fire suppression repair work consists of cutting hazard trees to ensure firefighters are working in safe areas, removing damaged trees that were bulldozed during fireline construction, reducing dirt berms, spreading cut vegetation, building water bars to minimize soil erosion and installing signs to protect natural resources and control traffic.
The Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team completed its assessment of the fire area with the exception of the Snow Mountain Wilderness which still has active fire. The BAER report provided information about the potential for future flooding, erosion and debris flows and made recommendations for emergency stabilization activities that need to occur in the first year after the fire. The report stated that the fire burned through the entire off highway vehicle trail system, damaged trail segments, burned or compromised culverts and bridges and impacted campgrounds, day use areas, trailheads, and signage. Also, the BAER team advised forest officials that future washouts from storm events pose general and widespread threats to safety for visitors and Forest Service employees.
The fire area remains closed under Forest Order No. 08-18-15. The forest is working to open areas as quickly as possible, but it’s going to take time. Some of the hazards in and around the fire area include dead standing trees or snags, burned bridges, barriers and culverts, exposed rebar stakes, rolling logs and rocks, and burned-out stump holes.
Next, the BAER focus will be on reducing hazard trees along roads, in campsites and parking areas. This work has to be done before areas can be safely reopened to the public. An assessment of the fire area is planned first in order to identify priorities based on public safety. Initially, hazard tree removal work will be done in areas leading to private property, communication sites, infrastructure and developed recreation sites.
Forest Supervisor Ann Carlson says, “We understand everyone’s desire to return to the forest. We all want to visit our favorite places and see how they fared through the fire. People have also expressed interest in volunteering for cleanup and restoration projects. We are doing everything possible to reasonably reduce risks to the public and reopen areas. We are exploring opportunities for volunteers to help us. Thank you again for your patience and support during this long recovery process.”