When driving through Yosemite National Park, visitors often notice smoke in the air. Most of the time, there’s no reason to be alarmed. Park officials set fires called prescribed burns when temperatures, the wind, and humidity allow them to easily control the blaze. The fire burns excess vegetation that could some day fuel a much larger wildfire. It also makes the forest healthier. Unfortunately, it makes the forest smokier, too. Residents in many parts of the Sierra go through the same ordeal every summer, as federal officials try to eliminate extra vegetation. The extra vegetation has grown largely because of federal policies to extinguish every fire that was spotted in the mountains for most of the twentieth century. Now, federal officials need to burn more than 100,000 acres annually for many years to make the mountains safer.
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