The following post was written by Sul’ma’ejote, aka Dr. Darryl “Babe” Wilson, PhD. Sul’ma’ejote was born in 1939 in Qatsade (Fall River Valley) on the north bank of Sul’ma’ejote (Fall River), a stone toss from It’ajuma (Pit River) in far northern California. He has written several books, including The Morning the Sun Went Down, about the early times of his life which were not only marked by the tragedy of a native “family shadowed in and out of civilization”, but the death of his mother who was killed in a lumber truck-automobile accident. Sul’ma’ejote blogs at Hay’dutsi’la.
July 19, 2008: Fires in Hyampom Still Crackling
Could we flip back through history to a hundred-thousand years before Columbus or ten minutes before landfall, we would find immense forests, some three-hundred feet tall and thirty-five feet around, most of the forests appearing like a manicured Federal Park, clear of underbrush, deaf falls and dry limbs and needles and leaves turning to duff just waiting for a spark.
The forests, like most life on this continent, were not an accident. That they looked like they were manicured is because they had been forever before the penetration of Europeans. Forests were full of life and were like a super market for the natives. Animals, birds, eggs, nuts, excitement and adventure flourished everywhere. It was a duty for the natives to clean the forests and encourage life to visit there, and it was an honor to “talk for” the forests in ceremony and prayer. Loving earth with a deep respect has always been the “way” of mountain and coast indigenous.
During fall season, tribes went into the forests and gathered the dead limbs and debris, the brush and leaves and cones. They made piles of the dead and drying materials and covered the piles with bark slabs, abundant on an old windfall where much of the debris was piled. Then they waited for the proper time. At the proper time they took pitch torches into the forest and set the forest piles on fire.
Why, then, didn’t the fire “get away” and burn millions of acres, maybe for months, since there was no fire crew or helicopters or foam and other fire retardants? It is because “the right time” to burn the forest piles was during first snow. First snow: the wind is usually calm, forest is damp, humidity perfect.
Today the little town of Hyampom is surrounded by fire and evacuation alerts are constant, as fire rushes with the wind and calmly eats its way up or down the ridge, thriving under duff, and sparks of duff are carried across fire lines that a crew of a hundred men have been all week establishing. The spark touches tinder and grows quickly to become a threat.
The old timers knew “first snow” routine and followed it. U. S. Forest Service and modern civilization seem to be attracted to forests matted with undergrowth and deadfalls, while spending much money to get control of a fire that should never had the opportunity to start by lightning or by match.