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California Drought Results In Rare January Forest Fire In The Sierra Nevada

Historically dry conditions in the Sierra Nevada have resulted in a rare January wildfire burning in a remote area of the Golden Trout Wilderness, about 20 miles east of Springville.

The Soda Fire was discovered on Tuesday by officials with the Sequoia National Forest. So far the fire has consumed around 130 acres, and is burning at a moderate rate. No structures are threatened. 

Paul Gibbs, fire information officer with the Sequoia National Forest, says that while it's not uncommon for Southern California to experience fires in January during dry years, such as today's Colby Fire, the Soda Fire is nearly unprecedented in the Sierra.

"We are seeing things burn up there more similar to what we would see in July." - Paul Gibbs

Gibbs: "With the lack of snow and rain we've had in the Sierra Nevada this year, we're just in a really rare situation. We are seeing things burn up there more similar to what we would see in July. Without the rain and the snow, the fuels up there, the dead logs and branches and pine needles are very dry."

Gibbs says that the fire is largely burning on dry, south-facing slopes in an area around 6,500 feet. 

Gibbs: "As far as recorded fire history, we don't have anything going back 80 to 100 years that's similar to this, for this time of year for the Golden Trout Wilderness."

The remote location is complicating fire fighting efforts. While snow in the area of fire itself is spotty, Gibbs says snow drifts are blocking nearby roads, and firefighters will need to hike in to the site. Smoke from the fire is also preventing access from the air. The cause of the blaze is unknown.

The dry conditions that have helped fuel the Soda Fire could be even a bigger problem later in the fire season, according to Gibbs.

"If this continues and we don't get the rain and snow, we're already seeing that the burning conditions on this fire and other fires that have been happening in California, that we expect a very early fire season. We could expect fires that grow quickly and spread quickly, with rapid rates of spread, long flame lengths, and very hard to stop it and control it. "

According to officials, the  Sequoia National Forest has a hand crew of about 50 firefighters available, and an additional fire fighting force of around 400 that can be called on if necessary.

Joe Moore is the President and General Manager of Valley Public Radio. During his tenure, he's helped lead the station through major programming changes and the COVID-19 pandemic, while maintaining the station's financial health. From 2010-2018 he served as the station's Director of Program Content. In that role, he also served as the host of Valley Edition, and helped launch and grow the station's award-winning local news department. He is a Fresno native and a graduate of California State University, Fresno.
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