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Devastation and rebirth.

Devastation and rebirth Areas burned by last year's wildfires offer some harsh nature lessons. Here's where to look, from the Oregon border to Yosemite Were smoke-tinged sunsets all you saw of the fires that swept across California last summer? Sparked by lightning, they blackened nearly 800,000 acres of national forest lands, the most in any Western state. (In a "normal" year, about 100,000 acres of the state's national forests burn.) If you want to witness fire's impact first-hand, this is a good time to visit burned areas in our forests--either for their own stark drama or on your way to other destinations. You can also join volunteer efforts to plant trees and restore trails.

New sprouts poking up Admittedly, hiking through an area of charred trees and soot doesn't sound appealing. And yet, it gives you an unforgettable look at an important aspect of our forest ecosystems--albeit a grim one. In some places, the devastation makes you catch your breath. Great stands of ponderosa and sugar pines, Douglas and red firs, incense cedar, and sequoia have been reduced to oversize matchsticks. No needles rustle in the wind; only the clacking of charred branches breaks the silence. A crow may fly over, as black as the tree trunks and scrub around you. Otherwise, the land may seem lifeless. But it isn't. Already, you may find green shoots of black oak and manzanita, forage for deer and other creatures. (Populations of browsing animals are expected to boom in the next few years, if normal precipitation returns.) On our visits, we found knobcone pine seedlings poking through the burned duff; only when heated by fire can this pine's cones open to release seeds. And many of the burned trees may survive. If a tree's cambium layer (just beneath the bark) is intact, it can still transport nutrients up and down the trunk. As you go, by car or on foot, you'll cross untouched islands of old-growth (mature) forest, vibrant contrast to severely burned areas. Notice how much natural debris has accumulated on the forest floor in unburned areas: such litter acted as kindling when fires ignited last year. Drought warnings spread fears that these islands could go up in smoke this summer.

Foresters busy clearing, replanting In areas such as the three described here, all within national forest boundaries, visitors will probably run into rehabilitation efforts such as timber salvaging and reforestation. Expect some extra traffic, as well as rutted roads and trail washouts. Logging operations and extreme fire danger may limit access to some areas. Before you head out, stop by the Forest Service office in the area you plan to visit (usually open 8 to 4:30 weekdays), or call ahead. Near Yosemite Valley. Along a 12-mile stretch of State 120, you'll see denuded foothills stretching to the horizon. From State 99 at Manteca, go east 49 miles on State 120. At the sign for Yosemite, turn right, staying on 120. Drive 17 1/2 miles to Groveland Ranger Station on your right; telephone there is (209) 962-7825. (In summer, the station is also open 7:30 to 3:30 Saturdays and may open Sundays.) Stop in for suggested driving routes through the burn. At Rim of the World overlook, about 7 miles farther on State 120, you may find a pale green Forest Service vehicle; if so, see if the ranger can help you identify recent burns from this vantage. Lumsden Trail in the Tuolumne River Wild and Scenic Area offers close-up views of severe and moderate burn. To reach the trailhead, continue 8 miles on State 120 to Cherry Oil Road (Forest Road 1N07); turn left and drive to the canyon bottom (about 9 miles). Cross the Tuolumne and continue 1 1/2 miles on 1N07 to Forest Road 1S23Y. Turn left; the road dead-ends at the Holm Power-house. The trail begins just downstream. Near Clear Lake. Some of the worst fires ripped through old-growth conifers within Mendocino National Forest, especially in the Snow Mountain Wilderness. Here you're well above valley heat (the mountain's peak is 7,056 feet). From Sacramento, drive 70 miles north on I-5 to Maxwell. Head west on Sites/Maxwell Road. At Lodoga, follow signs to Stonyford (8 miles). The ranger station is on the right; (916) 963-3128. Head to the town center (you should be facing the general store); turn left and drive about 1/4 mile to Fouts Springs Road, signed for Snow Mountain. Deafy Glade Trailhead is 13 miles ahead on the right. The trail (at about 3,000 feet) dips into a cool canyon of old-growth conifers; look west toward a severe burn area. Klamath National Forest. The Pacific Crest Trail winds through a mild to moderate burn area where fires leaped around the hillsides, leaving lush pockets of Douglas fir untouched. From Yreka, take I-5 north 10 miles to State Highway 96. Drive 19 miles west to the one-road town of Klamath River. The Oak Knoll Ranger Station is 2 miles ahead on your right; its number is (916) 465-2241. To reach the burned bridge shown in our photograph, continue 21 miles, turn left on Walker Creek Road. Take an immediate right at the sign for the Pacific Crest Trail and drive 5 miles to a trailhead. It's an easy 6-mile hike along year-round Grider Creek. For more views, continue west along State 96 to Happy Camp.

How you can help Operation Phoenix, a new volunteer program run by the Forest Service, will coordinate efforts statewide. Projects vary: you could plant giant sequoia seedlings or repair a singed outhouse. Call (415) 556-8826 to learn what you can do. In wilderness areas, work will be limited to trail repairs; burned land will be left to recover naturally. In national forests, "work days" will be open to everyone, usually at easy-to-reach sites. More strenuous projects may be arranged; check with individual forests.

PHOTO : Pausing beside charred ponderosa pines, hikers look east toward Yosemite National Park.

PHOTO : Blackened, denuded patch is where fire raged hottest, even burning the soil away. Nearby,

PHOTO : new black oak suckers sprout from the still-living roots of a burned tree, starting the

PHOTO : forest cycle again

PHOTO : Crossing Grider Creek, hiker balances on burned footbridge girder on Pacific Crest Trail

PHOTO : just south of Oregon. Volunteers will probably rebuild the bridge this summer
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article on California's wildlife; forest lands from the Oregon border to Yosemite
Publication:Sunset
Date:Jun 1, 1988
Words:1057
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