PLACERVILLE, Calif. – Incident Commander Kevin Breitwieser has declared that the Caples Fire is now 100% contained and in patrol status at 3,435 acres. There has been almost no change in fire size since October 18. The extreme wind event on October 26 that prompted a public safety power shutoff was a good test of the containment lines and resulted in three small spots which were extinguished. Traces of smoke from interior burning will continue to be visible, but no additional fire growth is expected.
Forest Service specialists including foresters, archaeologists, hydrologists, soil scientists and aquatic biologists have been working on a burned area assessment. They have determined that in some areas, the wildfire burned more intensely than was planned for in the original Caples Prescribed Fire, particularly along Caples Creek where some of the highest fuel concentrations had been accumulating for many decades.
“The Caples Fire demonstrates the importance and urgency of re-establishing fire in the forest under moderate conditions so that future wildfires will be less intense,” said Forest Supervisor Laurence Crabtree. “Although the intensely burned areas of the Caples Fire are within the size range and severity of historic fires in the Sierras, visitors may be surprised at the number of trees that are now dead.”
The concern about high intensity fire killing too many trees and other live vegetation was one of the reasons the prescribed fire was declared a wildfire and suppression began on Oct 10. The fire was kept within the original project boundaries, except for 320 acres on the southern end where the fire crossed over into the Silver Fork drainage and was quickly stopped.
Although the intensity of the wildfire resulted in more fire-killed trees than was intended in the prescribed fire, having pockets of severely burned areas within the forest will have some ecological benefits. Species that are adapted to fire and to the conditions found in the early stages of the forest will flourish in the large open areas and diverse habitat created by the Caples Fire. Research teams from the Forest Service and the California Academy of Sciences will be studying the burned area in the future to learn more about the role of fire in the Caples Creek watershed. This watershed is also an important water supply for 110,000 people in the El Dorado Irrigation District (EID) service area. No substantive effects from the fire are anticipated to the water quality that EID will be delivering to its customers.
The fire area will be closed to the public until spring due to the hazards of fire weakened and dead trees. Some of these trees will fall in upcoming winter storms which will reduce the risk to visitors when the trail reopens. While some large trees in the burned area did not survive, most of the large trees in the lower part of the watershed known as Legacy Trees did survive. These trees were prepared for fire by volunteers and youth conservation crews who removed hazardous fuel from around them earlier this summer.
Lessons learned from the Caples Fire will inform the next steps for the 8,800 acre Caples Ecological Restoration Project, a multi-year project in partnership with the El Dorado Irrigation District and the Sierra Nevada Conservancy (SNC). SNC and EID have provided grant funding and administration for the planning and implementation phases of the project. They share the goal of restoring fire to the Caples Creek watershed where naturally occurring wildfires started by lightning have been suppressed since 1908.