Vegetation fills Sugarloaf Peak after fire took out many trees on this 6,552-foot mountain in 2009. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Today it seems impossible to hike in California without seeing scars from wildfires. I don’t remember that always being true. Maybe I’m more aware now. Maybe there are simply that many more burn areas. Likely, it’s both.

On a recent hike in Lassen National Forest I expected we would either see charred trees from last year’s Dixie Fire or we would walk through dead timber. We did both.

What I wasn’t prepared for was witnessing the devastation from other fires.

Being new to this part of Northern California I’m not as aware of past fires as I am in the greater Lake Tahoe area. It just goes to show how we don’t always pay attention to what is happening outside our sphere.

It was overlooking the Hat Creek Valley along Highway 44 that these other fires were a focal point. While it was fairly obvious to see the forest had been burned, the regeneration of flora was encouraging.

One sign about the Sugarloaf Fire (a fire I have no recollection of) said, “Aug. 1, 2009, the Hat Creek Valley was blasted by more than 800 bolts of lightning. The fury ignited 47 wildfires, scorching 9,365 acres. After the fire, the burned trees along the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail were cut to increase safety, help the forest become re-established, and protect the trial from future devastating fires.”

The amount of acreage seems like nothing today. Still, it’s huge to the humans and wildlife affected by it.

Older fires that could be seen from this vantage point were the 1992 Red Rock Fire that was caused from a spark on a bulldozer. It burned 290 acres. The 1987 Boundary Fire charred 310 acres after a trash fire got out of control. Lightning caused the 1987 Lost Fire; it burned 23,000 acres.

While almost all of us understand the devastation and tragedy that comes with an unmanaged fire, the prevailing thought today is fire can be good.

One sign read, “Without fire, forest ecosystems are becoming unhealthy and contain more fuel for larger, more severe fires. Even as we work to reintroduce fire on the landscape, we remain committed to protecting lives, property and resources. Today our challenge is to blend the needs of the American public with the needs of the land.”

Sadly, we still haven’t gotten it right.

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