PONDEROSA Way—A Firebreak Between the Lowlands the Higher Timbered Belt
On the long slopes rising and gradually from the central valleys of California to the mountain summits on the east, the United States Forest Service is completing a 650-mile fire- break, known as the Ponderosa Way, extending from Pit River on the north to Kern River on the south. Seen from the air the Ponderosa Way is a wide strip cleared of all vegetation separating the belt of grassy woodland and chaparral of the low country from the timber on the higher elevations. In some places it follows the contour of the hills, in others it dips into the canyons and gulches (fig. 53).
The Ponderosa Way takes its name from a commercial timber tree, formerly called western yellow pine, which forms over 60 percent of the total stand of timber in California. Extensive in its range, ponderosa pine is the first commercial tree encountered as one climbs from the hot, dry lowlands to the higher country. Formerly it reached much further down into the valleys but lumbering and forest fires have now driven it back many miles.
Firebreaks are built to stop the front of an advancing fire, and are simply lanes cleared of all inflammable material. Their width depends upon various factors such as the height of the trees, shrubs, or other vegetation on either side and the slope of the ground. They have several uses as a fire-protection measure. When a forest fire is advancing slowly the break may stop it. At times they afford a way for transportation of fire fighters and equipment. Where the fire is running with such force that it threatens to leap the firebreak, then the break may be used for backfiring, a method of fighting fire with fire by burning the material on the ground so the main blaze will have nothing to feed on. Backfiring must always be done from a safe place such as the cleared line afforded by a firebreak.
The width of the Ponderosa Way varies from 50 to 200 feet depending on the type of cover and the slope of the ground. On narrow ridges it is 50 feet wide, on broader ones 150 feet. On contours and in dangerous places it is 200 feet or more. In the center of the way is a strip about 20 feet wide cleared to mineral soil and graded where necessary to form a road or truck trail so that motor vehicles and tank trucks can travel over it. In places old existing roads are used for this central strip. On steep ground the truck trail is built separately but close to the Ponderosa Way so that as much of the way as possible will be accessible to motor transportation (fig. 54).
Twenty years ago similar firebreaks were built along the western boundaries of the Sierra and Sequoia National Forests in California. 3 ’hqy proved their value many times as a defense against fires origi- Dating in the low country. The work done by the State labor camps in the winters of 1931 and 1932 under the direction of the California Division of Forestry revived the idea of protecting the timber belt by a firebreak, and resulted in the Ponderosa Way project.
During the winter of 1933-34 about 24 C. C.C.camps, 10 N.I.R.A. or Public Works camps, and some C. W. A. labor cooperated to complete 75 percent of the Ponderosa Way. Six C. C. C. camps were working on the Ponderosa Way in the summer of 1934 and by the spring of 1935 the project should be complete.
Forest officers and the public believe that this is one of the most important measures yet undertaken for the protection of timber, watersheds, range lands, and recreation areas in the national forests of California.