Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Memo to Arroyo Seco Canyon Area Fire Watchers: The McNally Fire Offers Lessons Learned

How quickly a beautiful August turned into a September nightmare along Southern California's historic Arroyo Seco Canyon.

The true extent of the devastating effects of the Station Fire (seen here entering the Arroyo Seco Canyon on August 29th) will not be known for several days, but it is almost certain, based upon eye-witness accounts of the flames, that the Arroyo Seco ecosystem will suffer devegetation that won't bode well for water quality or animal/plant life, and will be vulnerable to potential further damage from rainfall run-off in the upcoming winter season.

As someone who lived in Kernville in the Southern Sierra Nevada during the 2002 150,000+ acre McNally Fire (http://bit.ly/RQmTt), I share what I learned from that experience in the hopes that it will help my Southern California neighbors deal with our current firestorm.

1. The smoke after-effect of the McNally Fire lasted for several weeks once the fire was under control (it blazed for more than 30 days) and there was a sharp increase in cases of Valley Fever and respiratory infections for those who stayed in smoky areas for an extended period of time. Please stay inside and breathe filtered/air-conditioned air whenever possible to avoid breathing difficulties and lung infections. Avoid physical overexertion and especially protect children and the aged from bad air quality.

2. Once the burn is over and the smoke lifts, many of us will discover for the first time what scorched land really looks like. There will be an immediate desire to run into the forest and re-seed. There will be a lot of concern about mudslides. Many will cry when they first drive up Angeles Crest Highway after the road is re-opened, the same way I cried when I drove up Mountain Highway 99 and saw my beloved Sequoia Forest resembling a war zone. This will be the time for all of us to use restraint, allow trained personnel take protective landslide prevention measures, and wait for nature to heal. Supervised field trips to survey damage and make notes is fine, but let's not be overzealous in trying to help Mother Nature recover too quickly. Our good intentions could actually make the restoration process more difficult. The happy lesson from the McNally Fire: within two seasons, the Sequoia bounced back to life, with new groundcover growth and beautiful wildflowers, though it will be years before old growth trees will be seen again in some areas of the forest. Please ~ don't be zealous about sowing seeds or planting trees. You might be inadvertently sowing 'invasive' and non-native plants.

3. Those animals who could flee the flames, including deer, bear, coyote, and cougars will not only migrate into human neighborhoods but will be more aggressive in searching for food and shelter. Many will be injured or diseased. Residents ~ please balance your desire to help with your need to be safe by contacting Fish & Game personnel for assistance when wildlife is sighted on your property. Please especially protect your children and pets from potentially unfortunate encounters.

As we wait hopefully for the end of this devastating firestorm, let's begin to prepare for the restorative work that awaits us, especially in helping those who have lost their homes or loved ones.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please be civil, brief, and relevant. Thank you!