Posted on Categories Air, WaterTags , , , ,

UC Davis study to focus on post-Sonoma County fire pollution

Mary Callahan, NAPA VALLEY REGISTER
Anyone who endured the October firestorms remembers the choking smoke followed by weeks of air that was acrid and irritating, while the surrounding world felt toxic after wildfires laid waste to 137 square miles of Sonoma County.
A research team from UC Davis now hopes to find out what, if any, potential health hazards may have resulted from the incineration of more than 5,100 homes and all they contained: cleaning products, paints, pesticides, electronics packed with rare earth elements, synthetic building materials, fuels.
The two-year investigation will focus on components in the smoke as the fires burned, as well as those left in the air and ash once the flames had roared through.
Researchers also plan to test the post-fire environment for any new chemicals that may have resulted from the transformation of existing materials under extremely high-temperature, low-oxygen conditions.
Read more at http://napavalleyregister.com/news/state-and-regional/uc-davis-study-to-focus-on-post-sonoma-county-fire/article_e45b2afc-df92-5280-84ae-b24382c5f1f6.html

Posted on Categories ForestsTags , ,

PG&E trims or removes 30,000 fire-damaged trees in Northern and Central California

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has trimmed or cut down more than 30,000 damaged trees in 13 Northern and Central California counties, nearly completing a post-fire campaign to remove scorched trees that posed a threat to the utility’s power lines.
The effort is 99 percent complete in Sonoma and Napa counties, where contract tree-cutting crews dealt with about 10,500 and 13,400 trees, respectively, said Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman.
The only work remaining in Sonoma County, where the October wildfires covered 137 square miles, is related to trees near temporary overhead power lines being erected in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park and Hidden Valley neighborhoods, she said.
In Mendocino County, about 4,400 trees were trimmed or felled, with about 130 in Lake County.
Overall, the work is about 96 percent complete, Contreras said, but affected landowners may still ask PG&E to cut down and remove burned wood from their property at no cost.
Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/local/7909403-181/pge-trims-or-removes-30000

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , , , , ,

A Plea to Journalists – Wildfires in California: please investigate poor land planning rather than denigrating the region’s iconic, native ecosystem

Posted October 31, 2017, by THE CALIFORNIA CHAPARRAL INSTITUTE BLOG

Many in the fire science community are disappointed by the recent reporting in High Country News (HCN) on the tragic fires in northern California (Shrub-choked wildlands played a role in California fires, HCN 10/24/2017).
Portraying the ecology of the region as “choked” by native shrublands not only demonizes California’s richly biodiverse, characteristic habitat, the chaparral, but fails to come close to explaining why and how the fires occurred. Little effort was made in the article to help readers understand the situation. Instead, the article simply repeated hackneyed phrases over-used to describe fires in the western US.
Every fire is different. Large, high-intensity wildfires have long been a natural feature of these chaparral landscapes. What has changed is that we have put people in harm’s way.
A quick overview on Google Earth of what burned in the devastating Tubbs Fire would have revealed that it was not “shrub-choked wildlands,” but rather a complex patchwork of non-native grasslands, oak woodland, conifers, chaparral, and unfortunately, a lot of homes intermixed.
http://google.org/crisismap/google.com/2017-tubbs-fire

Tubbs veg area south no fire

“Shrub-choked wildlands?” The area burned in the Tubbs Fire was actually a complex patchwork of non-native grasslands, oak woodland, conifers, chaparral, and unfortunately, a lot of homes intermixed. Most of this area shown above burned within the southern portion of the Tubbs Fire, including the neighborhood of Coffey Park (in the lower left hand corner).

Tubbs distance with arrow

The distance of the devastated neighborhood of Coffey Park (tip of arrow) was approximately 1.6 miles from any significant amounts of wildland vegetation (beginning of arrow). Brown/amber colored areas under arrow indicate non-native grasslands burned during the Tubbs Fire.

Blaming nature and past efforts by firefighters to save lives and property through fire suppression ignores the actual problem – poorly planned communities in high fire risk areas.
Ironically, the article quotes a source that admits large fires have occurred before, but the source goes on to ignore the full history to support his contention that the recent fires were unusual, a classic logical fallacy. Yes, the article reads, there were large fires in the past (when we were suppressing fires), but the recent fires are different because we have been suppressing fires.
Memories are short. Despite claims to the contrary, wildland fires along California’s west coast and inland valleys have not changed much since the 1964 Hanly Fire, a blaze which burned nearly the same territory as the Tubbs Fire but was even larger. What has changed is human demography.

Read more at: A Plea to Journalists – Wildfires in California: please investigate poor land planning rather than denigrating the region’s iconic, native ecosystem | The California Chaparral Institute Blog

Posted on Categories ForestsTags , , , ,

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

Posted on Categories ForestsTags , ,

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

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , ,

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

Posted on Categories Habitats, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

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

Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags , , ,

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 –

Posted on Categories Sustainable LivingTags , , , , ,

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 –

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , , ,

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