Tag Archives: fire damage

Arborists: Charred trees may still regrow

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Danny and Sky Matula have tied bright green ribbons near the base of about 50 charred Douglas fir trees standing behind the ruins of their home in the rolling hills west of Kenwood.

“They’re just toast,” Sky Matula said, as light rain fell on the ashen remains of the home his father built on the wooded 10-acre parcel adjoining Trione-Annadel State Park.

The black, denuded firs — including two that stand about 150 feet tall — are almost certainly dead, and stand far too close for comfort to the once and future family home.

The green ribbons mark them for removal by one means or another.

But like countless other homeowners, the Matulas are stuck in an uncomfortable dilemma regarding the fate of fire-scarred trees, including stout oaks and tall, slender firs, that impart majesty to their property.

Like California’s iconic redwoods, oaks are cloaked in thick, protective bark that enables several of their species to survive all but the worst wildfires, experts say.

And as homeowners begin to plot their post-fire recovery, tree advocates are urging restraint in removing burned trees and shrubs in favor of waiting at least until spring to see if fresh green growth emerges from vegetation that has adapted to survive fire.

Read more at: Burned trees in North Coast fire areas pose dilemma for homeowners

Filed under Forests

PG&E aims to remove 25,000 fire-damaged trees near power lines across service region

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

PG&E aims to cut down up to 25,000 fire-damaged trees in an urgent effort to protect power lines in 13 counties across Northern and Central California, including Sonoma, where last month’s wildfires scorched 137 square miles.

Residents in fire areas may have noticed bright green spray-painted marks at the base of trunks on trees near power lines. They were left by PG&E arborists and foresters who are assessing the trees’ post-fire condition, company representatives said.

Trees marked P1 are deemed dead or dying and designated for immediate removal to prevent damage to power lines, while those marked P2 have secondary priority.

Trees with an FP 1 or 2 mark will be trimmed.

The work is already underway by contract tree-cutting crews along roads and across private property and should be completed by the end of the year, said Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman.

The utility, which serves about 16 million people from Eureka to Bakersfield, has been faulted in multiple lawsuits alleging poorly maintained power lines were responsible for the series of fires that started Oct. 8. The cause of those fires remains under investigation by the state.

Read more at: PG&E aims to remove 25,000 fire-damaged trees near power lines across service region

Filed under Forests

Damage to creeks, water supply analyzed after Sonoma County fires

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

It’s called “first flush,” the rain that fell last week upon the scars of recent wildfires and threatened to wash into local streams whatever ash, debris or contaminants had been left upon the landscape.

From fire retardant to heavy metals to organic byproducts and exposed sediment, anything left behind by the flames was at risk of being swept into storm drains and streams during the season’s first substantial rains, experts said.

Public agencies are hopeful that a feverish effort to deploy thousands of straw wattles and other barriers around burned structures, charred hillsides and storm drain inlets prevented some pollution from occurring with storm runoff.

But strategic stream testing will help measure their success as water quality engineers and experts gear up for what will be a long-term campaign to protect water resources and restore scorched watersheds into the rainy season and beyond.

“Healthy watersheds mean a healthy environment, and right now we have a very unhealthy watershed,” said Sonoma Clean Power Director of Programs Cordel Stillman, who is helping to coordinate county and municipal watershed recovery projects in the wake of the wildfire disaster.

Read more at: Damage to creeks, water supply analyzed after Sonoma County fires

Filed under Water

After Sonoma County fires, beekeepers prepare for difficult winter

Michele Anna Jordan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The bees that survived within fire zones face a loss of forage, not only the wild and cultivated plants that would normally be blooming now but also plants like Eucalyptus that bloom throughout the winter and early spring.

Among the questions we are still asking about the impact of the October fires is, “What about the bees?”

A comprehensive answer will unfold over time, as bees and their keepers have three aspects of impact to deal with, destruction of colonies by the fires, loss of fall and winter forage, and long-term exposure to smoke. For wild bees, there’s a fourth, potentially catastrophic, impact: Loss of habitat. A beekeeper can build a new box for his colonies but it takes years for a tree, for example, to develop the sort of nutritious hollow that wild bees need in order to thrive.

For now we know that many hobbyist beekeepers lost their hives, although some randomly survived, like lone houses in otherwise destroyed neighborhoods.

Read more at: After Sonoma County fires, beekeepers prepare for difficult winter

Filed under Habitats, Sustainable Living

At Santa Rosa’s Pepperwood Preserve, nature rebounds from massive wildlfire

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Green stalks of redwood lilies grow beneath the giant trees at Pepperwood Preserve, but no one has seen the colorful, trumpet-shaped blossoms in decades.

They likely haven’t bloomed since 1964, when powerful winds pushed the Hanly fire from Calistoga to Santa Rosa, following much the same path of the deadly Tubbs fire three weeks ago. Both blazes scorched a broad swath across the 3,200-acre preserve in the Mayacamas Mountains northeast of Santa Rosa.

Redwood lilies are a fire-dependent species that require wildfire heat to reproduce, said Michael Gillogly, the preserve manager, who lived on the property for 23 years. His was one of two homes on the preserve destroyed by the conflagration that wiped out nearly 7,000 Sonoma County dwellings.

“I can’t wait to see them,” he said.

The redwood lilies fit well in Pepperwood’s rugged landscape, evolved over thousands of years not only to survive but to thrive in the Mediterranean climate of the Coast Range, where oak, fir and redwood forests, shrubs and grasslands are baked dry every summer, vulnerable to natural or human ignition.

“There is beauty in the Pepperwood landscape now,” said Lisa Micheli, president of the foundation that operates the facility located off Porter Creek Road. “It is in a renewal process.”

The property, which includes the headwaters of three creeks that flow into the Russian River, is home to 750 varieties of native plants and 150 species of wildlife, including birds, reptiles and mammals.

The fire also wrought a significant new direction for Pepperwood’s role as a scientific research facility, “perfectly positioned,” she said, to document wildland fire recovery and possibly to develop new strategies for forest management and firefighting.

Read more at: At Santa Rosa’s Pepperwood Preserve, nature rebounds from massive wildlfire | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Habitats, Wildlife

First aid for Sonoma County’s fire damaged soil

Douglas Kent, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Douglas Kent is the author of Firescaping: Creating fire-resistant landscapes, gardens and properties in California’s diverse environments

You are battered and fatigued, but the fight to save your property and community is far from over.

In the wake of recent wildfires on the North Coast, the risk of topsoil loss and the flow of debris has grown.

Erosion leaps as high as 200 percent following fires in urbanized areas. With this increase comes mass sedimentation, alteration of streambeds, property and infrastructure damage, and, in some cases, even injury and death.

We need to hold our ground.

Fires eliminate canopies, burn off leaf litter and expose the soil. When there is nothing to slow or stop them, wind and water gain leverage. Soil gets shoved around as a consequence.

But the problem is not just the lack of protective cover. Recently burnt landscapes also have to contend with repellency. Fires cook the waxes that are natural to our soils. When these waxes cool, they coat the first inch of soil with a repellency layer, stopping water from infiltrating.

The consequences can be dire when the lack of protective cover and repellency are combined. Fire-scarred communities can produce incredible amounts of runoff and debris flow.This runoff and debris can overwhelm storm water drainage systems, leading to extensive erosion elsewhere. Worse still, debris flowing down slopes can overrun homes, businesses and small communities. These types of events can, and have, lead to personal injury and death.

Read more at: First aid for Sonoma County’s fire damaged soil | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Sustainable Living

After the Napa fires, toxic ash threatens soil, streams, and the San Francisco Bay

Adam Rogers, WIRED

By any measure, the fires that tore through Northern California were a major disaster. Forty-two people are dead, and 100,000 are displaced. More than 8,400 homes and other buildings were destroyed, more than 160,000 acres burned—and the fires aren’t all out yet.

That devastation leaves behind another potential disaster: ash. No one knows how much. It’ll be full of heavy metals and toxins—no one knows exactly how much, and it depends on what burned and at what temperature. The ash will infiltrate soils, but no one’s really sure how or whether that’ll be a problem. And eventually some of it—maybe a lot—will flow into the regional aquatic ecosystem and ultimately the San Francisco Bay.

That’s the bomb. Here’s the timer: An old, grim joke about the California says that the state only has three seasons: summer, fire, and mudslides. Those mudslides happen because of rain; the Santa Ana (or Diablo, if you’d prefer) wind-driven wildfires of autumn give way to a monsoon season that lasts through winter and into spring. The rains of 2016-2017 ended a longstanding drought and broke all kinds of records.

Scientists and environmental health agencies know, mostly, what to expect from ash that comes from burned vegetation. But these fires included something a little new. They burned through the wildland-urban interface and into cities. “For how many structures that were burned in fairly small areas in these fires, I think that’s a first-of-its-kind event,” says Geoffrey Plumlee, associate director of environmental health for the US Geological Survey. “The concern is, can they get it cleaned up before the heavy rains come?”

Read more at: After the Napa Fires, Toxic Ash Threatens Soil, Streams, and the San Francisco Bay | WIRED

Filed under Water

Post-fire housing challenges

Vesta Copestakes, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

We’re about the enter a new phase in Sonoma County, one that we were trying to achieve through environmental awareness and social and political activism.

Housing and homelessness have been our challenges and nothing we were doing was fixing the problem. Compassionate, intelligent people got together to find solutions, but ideas have been making a slow transition to implementation. People looked to tiny houses in tiny villages, or ADUs (Auxiliary Dwelling Units), but they just aren’t sprouting up fast enough to solve the problem. As housing prices rise, homes have become vacation rentals taking them out of the housing circuit. Rents have increased so high, people are forced to move out of the county and commute long distances to jobs.

Fire raged through the center of our county taking out thousands of homes, wiping out businesses, scorching the earth and devastating lives. Now we have newly homeless people who were happily housed and secure until flames destroyed what they had worked so hard to achieve. Now there are less homes and more homeless.

How are we going to fix this one?

The day after we go to press, our Board of Supervisors will be proposing some expansive changes in the way things get done around here. Right now we have a very pro-active board. One of our board members, Susan Gorin, was a victim of this fire like so many others. She is now homeless. Sure, she is among those who have insurance, and eventually, her home is likely to be rebuilt. I doubt very much that she is sleeping in an evacuation shelter, but no person can go through this kind of experience without being altered in some way.

Read more at: Post-Fire HOUSING Challenges

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

How California’s most destructive wildfire spread, hour by hour 

THE NEW YORK TIMES

An analysis by The New York Times of satellite images, combined with on-the-ground surveys, provides a more complete picture of the origin, spread and devastation of the fire that killed at least 22 people in and around the city.

The Tubbs fire destroyed at least 5,200 homes and structures, shown on the map below, making it the most destructive wildfire in state history, as well as one of the deadliest. The Times analysis also shows how quickly the fire spread in the crucial initial hours.

Read more at: How California’s Most Destructive Wildfire Spread, Hour by Hour – The New York Times

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Land Use

California’s multimillion-dollar pot farms are going up in smoke

Martha C. White, NBC NEWS

Talk about a buzz kill: In addition to charring acres of wine country north of San Francisco, California’s sweeping wildfires are also destroying cannabis farms in and around the state’s Emerald Triangle.

For many producers, the financial losses include not just harvest-ready crops, but recent investments in infrastructure to comply with licensing regulations in preparation for recreational marijuana legalization next year.

“The fires are hitting in an area of California that’s probably the predominant outdoor cultivation site in the country,” said Robert Frichtel, CEO of General Cannabis Corporation. “It has ideal growing conditions — the same reason they grow wine grapes in that region,” he said. “It arguably produces some of the highest-quality cannabis in the country.”

Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, said it was impossible to know at this point how badly production had been affected, since evacuees from many fire-ravaged areas were not yet being allowed back to their farms.

“The basic reality here is we don’t know. What we know is bad, and it’s going to get a lot worse,” he told NBC News. On Thursday, Allen said he had confirmed that seven growers among his member base had lost their crops, worth between $3 million and $6 million at wholesale; by Friday morning, the number of members with lost crops was up to 21, and the aggressive spread of the fire led him to fear the worst.

Read more at: California’s Multimillion-Dollar Pot Farms Are Going Up in Smoke – NBC News

Filed under Agriculture/Food System