Recent rain and snow in the Sierra have stopped growth of the Sheep Fire, which has been the source of smoky skies in the Owens Valley since it was ignited by a lightning strike in July.
The blaze has burned 8,962 acres – 5,837 in Sequoia National Forest and 3,125 in Kings Canyon National Park – over the past two and a half months.
The fire began in the southern cliffs above Cedar Grove and has grown predominately to the west.
The fire was unable to spread to the east because previous prescribed burns and wildland fires had reduced fuels in those areas. Spread to the south flank of the fire slowed significantly due to scarce fuels and by burnout operations completed by firefighters last month in an attempt to contain the blaze and reduce smoke impacts to the Eastern Sierra and communities west of the fire. Firefighters contained the fire’s northern growth along the State Route 180 and the Kings River.
Historically, fires ignited in the summer months by lightning storms are left to burn throughout the late summer and fall in the Sierra Nevada to reduce fuels in the backcountry. These fires would slowly smolder with the cooler and shorter days and eventually be extinguished by rain or snow.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, “this lightning fire will limit the size and severity of subsequent fires by reducing the amount of dead, woody debris on the forest floor. It will open the canopy allowing sunlight through and encourage the sprouting and re-growth of plants, shrubs and trees.