Flaming trees pose threats to firefighters
It’s a bit like watching a suspenseful movie. Firefighters wielding gasoline-powered chain saws cut down massive trees, flames still licking the base of the tree trunks. Then the sawyers make their way through mounds of gray ash, stepping over carbon-black trees on the ground to reach the next smoldering tree.
“The Hazard Trees of Free Stone” video provides an up-close look at methods for tackling a snag patch that’s bedeviled firefighters combating the Cedar Creek Fire for a couple of weeks. The trees, weakened by the fire and prone to toppling over, pose a serious risk to firefighters.
“The people in the video cutting the trees are some of the best fellers anywhere — they are very, very experienced. Normal firefighters don’t do that,” said Cedar Creek Fire Public Information Officer Toby Weed, who shot the video.
Weed has been making videos of the crews fighting the Cedar Creek Fire to help the public understand techniques used to control fires and to illustrate how firefighters stay safe.
There are several dozen problem trees, mainly Western red cedars, that have been weakened by fire eating away at their roots. Cedars, which can grow to be 100 feet tall, are particularly susceptible — and particularly dangerous — because they often have hollow cavities that function like a chimney, conducting fire to their crowns, Weed said. When they fall, they can ignite a new fire quite a distance away.
“This is very, very specialized work. There are only a few people in the country who could do saw work like that,” Weed said. Expert fallers can make the tree fall wherever they want it to, he said. They cut trees only when necessary for firefighter safety.
The fellers are working with hundreds of other crews, who had to avoid the area until the fellers could get in to remove the snags, Weed said.
Once the trees have been felled, they often must be cut and moved — by hand — away from the fire line. The crews are leaving the trees in the area because it’s too wet to use heavy machinery there, Weed said.
The Freestone snag operation — actually, near Early Winters campground, about 1 mile west of the Freestone Inn, plus another smaller patch about 1 mile west of there — has been an ongoing problem because crews had to wait for fire activity to diminish before it was safe for the fellers.
The area has cooled considerably and fuels are burning out, Operations Chief Frankie Romero with Great Basin Incident Management Team 1 said in his Aug. 12 briefing. Still, the area still poses a threat, so crews continue to watch it carefully, he said.
The grove hasn’t burned completely, and many of the trees will live, Weed said.