Nov 15, 2008

LA Wildfires

It's hard for me to imagine wildfires as i sit in damp England, but they're raging in LA. I've got several friends in LA, and though I'm not one to freak out over natural disasters, I've been thinking of them lots. California is a hazard zone: wildfires, earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, oh my! While a lot of these events are relatively natural, they're often human influenced, or they have the potential to hurt a lot of people. Or destroy their homes at the least, like today's terribly sad leveling of a mobile home park. Wouldn't it be helpful if the folks living in the FEMA trailers post Katrina all had housing now and we could pass those homes on to the folks in Sylmar who just lost theirs?

I hope that Compactors and like minds in LA can find a way to reach out to these folks. 500 homes, gone. And I shudder to think of how much insurance money one recoups on a mobile home. Will it be enough for folks to relocate, particularly in the current economic disaster?

Normally I wouldn't holler about fire suppression, but as the Santa Ana winds blow the Sylmar fire through the foothills, I wonder what started it and how it's going to move. Our fire suppression techniques have changed the way that fires move, as well as they way that they affect habitat. Suppression can increase the fuel load in a landscape if we don't let wildlands burn on an episodic basis. Then the fires tend to linger, burning more hotly, and deeply into the vegetation, thriving on the increased fuel. So we have bigger fires that do more damage to even fire resilient trees and grasses.

By the time they hit cities, these fires can be huge and forceful. Ad those hot Santa Ana winds at 75 mph and you've got a fierce force of nature to fight. Some of these fires are started by lightning. Some are from cigarettes. Lawn mowing at the wrong time of year has destroyed entire communities. Last year a guy sent up a flare when he got lost hiking.

I'm pondering all of this more than I usually do because I wonder if I'd enjoy working on these lands. Could I help further sensitive techniques that could reduce fuel load and enhance habitat? Would I be comfortable working of prescribed burns? There's a lot at stake, including the emotional investment one makes in a landscape, not to insinuate that all is lost in the habitat sense when these fires rage. But there are some concerns with this one for endangered species.

More than anything, I'm procrastinating on a paper I need to be writing about gloomy, damp dunes in England. As I write about these habitats I think more and more of where I want to work and do my thesis this summer. I know I'm not staying here to do a project, but I'm still feeling out some other habitats. I was nearly sold on wetland restoration ... but not so much now. So I'm back to contemplating the deserts of the west, maybe the SF delta. The world feels really big when I think about these things, makes it hard to narrow my focus.

Back to the dunes for now. And probably some peeks at the fire news as I putter along on this paper.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Interesting thoughts Rachel.
I have been a wildland fire manager for over 31 years now.
These are indeed interesting times.
One interesting situation that I have noticed during my duties on the fireline in So Cal is that the seemingly innocent suburbs, far away from the edges of the city, are now overgrown with old ornamental vegetation. This includes piles of dry, dead vegetation. In a climate like So Cal's, this fuel burns quite readily. The result is highly dangerous wildfires-even within the heart of the suburbs.
The creatures of the chaparral have adapted with wildfires for centuries- it's the human species that have not adapted to the reality of life in this ecosystem.