Wildfires and Mudslides: Restoration Resources

The 2017 California wildfire season is the most destructive one on record — total of 9,054 fires burned 1,381,405 acres, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, including five of the 20 most destructive wildland-urban interface fires in the state's history.

As we — the state, communities, land managers, those impacted personally from the fires, and those of us in a position to work towards restoring the landscape — grapple with recovering from these events, please keep the following information and resources in mind and definitely reach out via our facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/SERCAL.org/) or to SERCAL’s Board of Directors with additional information as it becomes available:

Within the fire-burned areas, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and others recommend focusing on site stabilization and letting restoration occur over time. There is likely to be good recovery in the wildland areas from existing seed stock and resprouts; this choice is less risky than revegetating with plants whose genetic sources are unknown. However, within the extremely devastated mudslide and debris flow areas, stabilization with revegetation may be appropriate.

For long-term recovery and restoration, CNPS has launched a campaign to “Re-Oak” the wine country areas of the Sonoma/Napa fires; their guidance is to collect and only use acorns from the burn areas: http://www.cnps.org/cnps/conservation/acorns/.

The Sonoma Ecology Center has produced a slide show on “Healing with the Land,” and includes links to many other recovery resources: https://www.sonomaecologycenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Healing-with-the-Land_-Community-Forumv2-rfs-copy.pdf and https://www.sonomaecologycenter.org/fire-recovery/.

Abstracts from the SERCAL 2016 Fire and Post-fire Technical Session (pdf) (search our blog) also provide food for thought. 

At home, we know that creating 100 feet of “defensible space” is an important measure in increasing the chance of your home surviving a wildfire. Another fire-prevention strategy is to “harden” your home with fire-resistant materials. Cal Fire information on defensible space and hardening your home: http://calfire.ca.gov/communications/communications_firesafety_100feet and http://www.readyforwildfire.org/Hardening-Your-Home/.

Some background:

2017 started out historically wet across the state, causing an abundance of new vegetation. This vegetation dried out during the hot and dry summer season, providing more dry fuels than normal. These conditions contributed to 5 of the 20 most destructive wildfires in the state's history — #1 Tubbs, #6 Nuns, #7 Thomas, #11 Atlas, and #17 Redwood Valley.

During the month of October, shortly after a series of wildfires broke out throughout Napa, Lake, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Butte counties, they rapidly grew to become massive conflagrations spanning from 1,000 to well over 20,000 acres apart within a single day. Then in December, across Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Diego, Riverside, and Santa Barbara counties, multiple wildfires ignited, exacerbated by unusually powerful and long-lasting Santa Ana winds. The Thomas Fire, which grew to 281,893 acres, became California's largest modern wildfire. In January, more than an inch of rain fell within 15 minutes in the fire-ravaged landscape just north of Montecito, setting off catastrophic mudslides.

In 2014, a study found a human fingerprint in growing California wildfire risks. The paper, titled “Extreme fire season in California: A glimpse into the future?,” was published as the second chapter of “Explaining Extreme Events of 2014”, by the American Meteorological Society. Projecting into the future, its authors stated "The increase in extreme fire risk is expected within the coming decade to exceed that of natural variability and this serves as an indication that anthropogenic climate warming will likely play a significant role in influencing California’s fire season."