The motorcade carrying U.S. President Barack Obama departs his compound in Yosemite National Park, California, U.S., June 19, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
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California's drought and a bark beetle epidemic have caused the largest die-off of Sierra Nevada forests in modern history, raising fears that trees could come crashing down on people or fuel deadly wildfires that could wipe out mountain communities.The epidemic has killed an estimated 40 million trees since 2010 in the central and southern Sierra, and it's spreading north.Chief Ken Pimlott, who manages the state's response to the die-off as director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, defended the air burners as one of many tools.He acknowledged the burners will contribute to air pollution, as with any work in the forest, but much less than a large wildfire, which the air burners may prevent by removing dead trees. Called air-curtain burners, the 20-foot long, steel containers blast a sheet of air over the open top, disposing of up to eight trees an hour.Last year alone 29 million trees died at the height of California's drought now in its fifth year, the U.S. Forest Service reports.It's unclear how many trees in the Sierra will be cut down.
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