The Shirley Fire – Resources at Risk

shirley fire smoke

Image of smoke from the Shirley Fire near Lake Isabella. Photo credit: Kern County Fire Department

The Shirley Fire, near Lake Isabella, has burned almost 2,500 acres – an area roughly two and a half times the size of Golden Gate Park – and has threatened more than 1,000 homes. In addition, the area’s water, habitat, and hydropower resources are still at risk.

New to the Sierra Wildfire Wire blog is an online map that details not only the locations of fires throughout the Sierra Nevada, but also the potential resources at risk within the burn area. Take the Shirley Fire for example:

According to the map, the Shirley Fire has burned through a portion of known California spotted owl territory. The California spotted owl is considered a species of special concern by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and loss of habitat certainly won’t help.

In addition, the Shirley Fire burned an area that is suitable habitat for the Pacific fisher – a candidate species under the federal Endangered Species Act. The total number of fishers in the Southern Sierra is estimated to be somewhere between 125 to 250 adults.

Stay tuned for a future blog that will highlight additional information from the online map.

In addition to impacts on critical habitat, the Shirley Fire may also have long-term water quality and supply impacts. The fire has affected most of the upper reaches of Rattlesnake and Tillie Creeks, watersheds that flow directly in to Lake Isabella. After the Piute Fire burned near Lake Isabella in 2008, heavy rains washed ash and debris from the fire down the mountain and in to the Upper Kern River.

  • Flash floods caused residents to evacuate
  • Sediment from the fire clogged intake pipes at the California Water Service plant in Kernville, reducing the plant’s drinking water production from 1,000 gallons per minute to 33 gallons per minute
  • Debris-filled water forced the closure of Southern California Edison’s hydro-electric power plant

Following the fire and the flash floods, the communities of Wofford Heights and Kernville were asked to reduce their water consumption as much as possible in order to conserve the limited supply. Imagine how limited water will be if history were to repeat itself during a drought year like this year.

As of today, the Shirley Fire has burned 2,646 acres, and has cost just over $7.5 million to fight. However, events like the Shirley Fire have impacts well beyond the burn perimeter, and the values that are lost carry a much higher price tag than just the cost of suppression. If we don’t improve forest health in the Sierra by increasing the pace and scale of ecologically sound forest thinning, we risk losing resources valued by all of California.