Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Such burns are an efficient, inexpensive option in many cases, compared to labor-intensive manual thinning and mechanical treatments, which can cost $2,500 to $4,000 an acre and up, depending if equipment like a wood chipper or pile burning is needed.
Che Casul, a seventh-generation Sonoma County rancher, badly wanted to see his woods on fire. With three others, he walked along the edge of a 33-acre patch of oak woodlands on his family’s Bodega Highway ranch. They carried drip torches filled with diesel fuel and gasoline. As they paced their way through the forest, they released small flaming droplets meant to coalesce into a wider curtain of flames creeping along the earthen floor — a prescribed fire.
But it was a damp December day, with light rain falling by afternoon across this corner of southwestern Sonoma County, so the flames that did spread were subdued, producing a blue smoke that hovered just above the ground, swirling around the two dozen men and women clad in yellow firefighter gear and spread throughout the woodland.
Casul, 34, had invited the firefighters onto the property, part of a controlled deployment of fire that had been in the works many months earlier — as catastrophic wildfires once again overtook California, burning a record 4.2 million acres, including more than 290,000 acres of Sonoma and Napa counties.
For Casul and the team of firefighters and volunteers assembled on his 213-acre spread just inland from the Sonoma Coast, conditions were less combustible, partly by design.