John Battles, a professor of forest ecology at the University of California, Berkeley, said the fires are behaving in ways not seen in the past as flames churn through trees and brush desiccated by a megadrought in the West and exacerbated by climate change.
“These are reburning areas that have burned what we thought were big fires 10 years ago,” Battles said. “They’re reburning that landscape.”
The fire is burning along the U.S. Route 50 corridor, one of two highways between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. The highway through the canyon along the South Fork of the American River has been the focus of a decades-long effort to protect homes by preventing the spread of fires through a combination of fuel breaks, prescribed burns and logging.
“All of that is being tested as we speak,” Porter said. “When fire is jumping outside of its perimeter, sometimes miles … those fuel projects won’t stop a fire. Sometimes they’re just used to slow it enough to get people out of the way.”