One air traveler reported, "as soon as we were over the northern edge of Sydney I could only see a blanket of brown smoke as far as the eye could see." Roads were closed, and big flakes of ash and burned
leaves rained down on urban backyards and gardens.
Driven by the 6.5 million acres that burned
last year, Congress directed federal, state, and local agencies to work together to reduce immediate hazards to communities adjacent to forests.
Soon after the Cerro Grande fire last year--the 47,650-acre fire that burned
into Los Alamos--a team of burn area rehabilitation experts found that fully 35 percent of the site burned
Because all vegetation burned
in many areas of the forests last summer, "mammals and birds will be looking for anything to eat," Shearer says.
Not everyone agrees that fidgeting accounts for the excess calories being burned
. Jules Hirsch and his colleagues at Rockefeller University in New York City have used radar to track people's movements and found no correlation between fidgeting and energy consumption.
In pre-settlement times, fire would sweep through the forest every five to 15 years, keeping the forest open and the underbrush from becoming too dense, rejuvenating the soil with nutrients from the burned
vegetation, and keeping the amount of "fuel" low, which meant fires rarely burned
hot enough to harm mature trees.
Some of these burned
bones were turquoise colored, an indication that only after fossilization were they exposed to fire, probably naturally ignited, the scientists hold.
Hard against the Atlantic on the region's Francis Marion National Forest, District Ranger Glen Stapleton adds, "We tell people that prescribed fire is the single most important forest-management tool we have." He then cites 15,000 to 20,000 acres a year burned
on his 120,000-acre coastal-plain district.
The calculation is rough; some desert lands would not burn under any conditions, while old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest burned
historically perhaps every thousand years.
For instance, though some oil washed over the boom as each fire was due to get under-way, even that burned
without leaving behind the characteristic l-mm-thick sheen of oil.
The fires of 1990 have earned a place in Yosemite history boos not only because they scorched a sizable chunk of real estate but also because they burned
with a severity that caught many park officials by surprise.
"Homes that were not defensible didn't burn and those that shouldn't have burned
, did burn," says Ferris.