Just steps ahead of winter storms, fire crews from the Bureau of Land Management’s Eagle Lake Field Office in early December set fire to about 500 piles of brush and juniper limbs, completing the last prescribed burning of a 10-year project to improve wildfire safety and landscape health near Eagle Lake in northeast California.
The pile burning was the last phase of the Stones-Bengard-Spaulding Community Fire Safe Project, a partnership effort launched in January 2004 along the boundaries of three rural communities at the north shore of California’s second largest natural lake. The Lassen County Community Development Department, CAL FIRE, BLM and Lassen County Fire Safe Council were the key partners in the effort funded in part by a BLM National Fire Plan federal assistance grant.
In the projects, crews used machinery or hand cut juniper trees that were encroaching into sage-steppe habitats along the communities. In all, more than 90 acres were treated in six treatment units ranging in size from 11 acres to more than 400 acres. The juniper trees provided fuel for a regional biomass electrical generating plant and firewood for local homes. In addition, the Lassen County Fire Safe Council treated about 600 acres of private lands.
In addition to reducing wildfire risk to the towns, the work befitted wildlife habitat by improving plant diversity.
About 200 people live year-round in the three communities, but the population grows to more than 2,000 during high use summer periods. The lake and its surroundings are favored by anglers, hunters, campers and bicyclists. The lake supports trophy-sized Eagle Lake trout and is home to wildlife including bald eagles, osprey and mule deer.
With summer temperatures in the 90s, average annual rainfall of only 14 to 18 inches and frequent windy conditions, the area has a high wildfire risk. Heavy buildups of juniper on public lands were contributing to the risk, and led the partner agencies to launch the fire safe project a decade ago.