A Silent Witness: Dissecting a Fire


Giant redwood near Miranda belches smoke. [Photo by George Monroe.]

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This letter by, Myers Flat Fire Chief George Monroe, originated as a comment but, with his permission is shared here.

Monroe describes the fire near Miranda yesterday that cost thousands of dollars and multiple hours of firefighter’s and park ranger’s time:

A large goose pen (a hollowed out redwood tree) at least 15 feet in diameter (the park ranger said 18 feet, I’ll measure it someday), was on fire in the State Park.

This majestic old growth redwood tree was lucky that a dedicated group of fire fighters, park rangers and a park tree climber arrived at scene quickly. With an initial attack, [they] knocked down the fire that spread to the surrounding dead redwood limbs, redwood needles and thick forest duff as well as the heavy fire that was raging from inside the tree and spreading upward through the bark and straggly limbs of the giant redwood. 

With a concerted effort different ideas were discussed about how to put the fire out that had spread up the exterior of the tree up to 150 feet high. A helicopter drop was ordered but we were told that it would be a few hours if we could get one at all. Next, a small smooth bore nozzle was used, but that only reached about fifty feet.

Then, a twenty four foot ladder was deployed but that only got us another 24 feet. We had another 75 to go. The park ranger told us that a climber/faller was on his way to assess the situation. Having worked in the old growth woods in the 70’s, I knew that to fall this particular tree would be a major project and take a half a day minimum. But none of us wanted to see this forest guardian felled, although one of the fire chiefs felt that if it was a threat to more of the forest, it would have to come down. The park service climber/faller felt that “we can save the life of this tree.”

Another possible option I thought we had was to use CAFs (Compressed Air Foam) to shoot foam (water combined with a foam solution and given an extra kick with high pressure air) further up in the tree. A firefighter ran off to get his CAFS fire engine.
As it turned out, the compressed air foam only gained another fifteen feet.

The climber was able to climb 100 feet into smaller redwood trees on either side of the giant, and direct a garden hose (we call it a pencil line) sized stream onto the burning patches that were burrowing deep into the bark in places high up in the tree. Success! (almost).

When I left at noon, most of the fire crew were still down (way down) with the park rangers who were setting up to spend the night monitoring the tree in case it reignited. A sprinkler was set up inside the hollowed out tree which was still billowing smoke.

Bottom line: Five fire engines (with crews) were dispatched to this fire at 5:58 am. NO one had breakfast. A CAL FIRE Battalion Chief was dispatched as well as a Division Chief who showed up later.
A park ranger, a parks climber faller were dispatched. (Three cheers to the fire fighter who brought us breakfast burritos at 11 o’clock!!!) And then there are the investigators who will try to determine how the fire was started and then there are the park employees who [spent] the night babysitting the redwood.

Hundreds of man/woman hours, thousand and thousands of dollars, spent on resources and the perhaps thousands of dollars that may have to be spent on an engine pump that became overheated by using maximum pressure for too long by trying to shoot CAF way high in the tree…

  • Laytonville Rock


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