Monday, December 12, 2016

Hodgepodge 44/365 - Soberanes Fire

Over the summer, a wildfire burned in the Ventana Wilderness, Los Padres National Forest, between July 22 and October 26. Much of that time, in the deepest heart of the wilderness, the fire went largely unfought, uncontrolled: the terrain is very rough, and there is virtually no human habitation, so the firefighters simply let it burn itself into containment.

The Soberanes Fire, as it is now named—after the canyon in which it started—grew from an illegal campfire in Garrapata State Park, near the coast, and quickly spread south, north, and east. In the end, 132,127 acres were scorched, and over 5,000 fire personnel participated in the battle against it. Fifty-seven homes and 11 outbuildings were destroyed, and a bulldozer operator lost his life. 

Yesterday, a group of volunteer Ventana Wilderness Rangers went into the burnt area for the first time, to get training on the particular hazards that a fire creates and to plan a course of action for helping the U.S. Forest Service open the area back up to visitors. Our job to start with will be trail surveys—tallying dead trees and other obstacles that need to be removed, and to assess the trail work, especially tread rehabilitation and creation or improvement of water barriers, that will be required to bring the trails back into service. And then: the trail work itself can commence.

Foolishly, on our first foray into this striking charred wasteland, I forgot my camera! I kept seeing such wonderful shots, but no way to capture them. I eventually stopped kicking myself, and instead asked a fellow ranger if he'd send me his photos. So herewith, a taste of what fire can do—and of what life can do in response—courtesy of VWR Roger Beaudoin. Thanks, Roger!

Skinner Ridge Trail: these shrubs were probably mostly
California yerba santa  (Eriodictyon californicum),
chamise (Adenostema fasciculatum),
manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.),
and black sage (Salvia melifera)
Pano from Bottchers Gap: burn area especially on the left
New growth
Skinner Ridge Trail looking toward Pico Blanco
Ventana Wilderness Rangers
Little Sur drainage
Although the land looks bleak, with all those black skeletons and that bare earth, brilliant green growth is springing up at the feet of the former shrubs. And in the forest? A few trees were killed—though most likely these were already weak—but for the most part it looks in pretty good shape. We'll see what we find as we continue to work our way into other parts of the wilderness, where the fire may have burned hotter or longer. But I, for one, was encouraged by the beauty and resilience we saw yesterday. It should be an amazing spring once the wildflowers start to pop up.

In the meantime, we volunteer rangers and trail crew have a lot of work to do.

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