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A Decade of Bolstering Nature's Regenerative Powers: McNally Fire 2002

Contact(s): Cindy Thill

Kernville, CA….On July 21, 2002 an illegal campfire started the largest and most costly forest fire in the history of the Sequoia National Forest. The McNally Fire burned for 37 days and scorched 150,700 acres. It was twice the size of any fire previously recorded in the area. By September 8th, the fire had cost taxpayers $53,342,000 in fire suppression.

In the fire’s first hour historic Road’s End Resort, built by Earl Pascoe in the early 1900s, was completely destroyed. This original pack station, once literally the end of the road, served hunters and fishermen heading to the back country. Wildlife, livestock and native vegetation were trapped in the flame, killing them and leaving landscapes severely changed for future decades. Over 73,000 acres burned at high or moderate severity, leaving denuded and unstable soils vulnerable to erosion and contributing to the potential for downstream flooding. The drive along the west side of Sherman Pass Road, up the Brush Creek drainage, once shaded above 6,000 feet, is open and hot, due to the loss of forest canopy. Some have shared, “Driving up Sherman Pass, along Brush Creek feels like walking through a home without walls.”

A Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team assessed the watershed damage and developed an action plan to reduce effects of the fire. Before restoration action could be completed, an intensive rain storm affected the area in November 2002. The storm dropped approximately twenty inches of rain within a forty-eight hour period at the Johnsondale weather station. The North Fork of the Kern swelled from 300 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 25,500 cfs with mud and debris overnight. Over $3,000,000 in emergency watershed rehabilitation funds were spent to stabilize soils and reduce the potential for further destruction from floods and erosion.

10 years later, a look at the natural regeneration of the forest combined with the efforts for ecological restoration of the Forest Service and many volunteers, reveals the beginning of a new forest.

Gone are the “walls” of lush tall pines and fir, at the lower elevations. These have been replaced with fields of wildflowers and brush as the forest begins the long process of regeneration. Poking up through the wildflowers are small trees - some planted by the Forest Service and volunteers, some natural regeneration and sprouting after the fire.

At the higher elevations, much of the forest remains intact with more subtle changes.

The Forest Service planted over 400,000 tree seedlings (white fir, western white pine, and sugar and Jeffrey pine trees) over the past decade enhancing restoration efforts. Volunteer support including donations of $30,800 from the Penny Pines Foundation (www.pennypines.org), helped plant trees, cleared trails and bolstered the restoration efforts.

We invite you to visit your forest by taking a drive along Sherman Pass Road. The vistas are ever changing as the forest regenerates. It will be decades before the McNally burn area is fully restored; however, some things are already fairly amazing. Someday, the fire scars will not be visible and stands of green trees will again be present for future generations to enjoy!

The Kern River Ranger District of the Sequoia National Forest would like to thank the citizens, cooperators, civic organizations and community groups involved.

The McNally Fire can be reviewed, in its entirety, through written format, photographs and maps by visiting www.fs.fed.us/r5/sequoia/projects/mcnallyfire/, or www.mcnallyfire.com.


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