Tag Archives: california wildfires

After California’s 3rd-largest wildfire, deer returned home while trees were ‘still smoldering’ | Corona, CA

Michelle Ma – UW News | October 28, 2021

When a massive wildfire tears through a landscape, what happens to the animals?

While many animals have adapted to live with wildfires of the past — which were smaller, more frequent and kept ecosystems in balance across the West — it’s unclear to scientists how animals are coping with today’s unprecedented megafires. More than a century of fire suppression coupled with climate change has produced wildfires that are now bigger and more severe than before.

In a rare stroke of luck, researchers from the University of Washington, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, Santa Barbara, were able to track a group of black-tailed deer during and after California’s third-largest wildfire, the 2018 Mendocino Complex Fire. The megafire, which torched more than 450,000 acres in northern California, burned across half of an established study site, making it possible to record the movements and feeding patterns of deer before, during and after the fire. The results were published Oct. 28 in the journal Ecology and Evolution.

“We don’t have much information on what animals do while the flames are burning, or in the immediate days that follow after wildfires,” said co-lead author Kaitlyn Gaynor, a postdoctoral researcher at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at UC Santa Barbara. “It was kind of a happy accident that we were able to see what these animals were doing during the wildfire and right after, when it was still just a desolate landscape.”

The researchers were surprised by what they learned. Of the 18 deer studied, all survived. Deer that had to flee the flames returned home, despite some areas of the landscape being completely burned and void of vegetation to eat. Most of the deer returned home within hours of the fire, while trees were still smoldering.

Having access to this location information — from previously placed wildlife cameras and GPS collars — is rare when studying how animals respond to extreme and unpredictable events, like megafires.

“There are very few studies that aim to understand the short-term, immediate responses of animals to wildfires. When a fire sweeps through and dramatically changes the landscape, its impact in those initial days is undervalued and absent in the published literature,” said co-lead author Samantha Kreling, a doctoral student at the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences.

The study took place northwest of Sacramento at the University of California’s Hopland Research and Extension Center, where the researchers were studying the movements of black-tailed deer. Before the Mendocino Complex Fire started, the team had placed tracking collars on 18 deer and positioned several dozen motioned-activated wildlife cameras across the area.

On July 27, 2018, the research team based in Hopland saw smoke nearby. Within hours, they were told to leave immediately and not return to the property, as large flames swept through. In total, a little over half of the research center’s land was burned by the Mendocino Complex Fire that was, at the time, California’s largest wildfire.

Kreling, who needed data from the site for her senior-year undergraduate thesis at UC Berkeley, decided to pivot — or, in the words of her collaborators, “turn lemons into lemonade.” The wildlife tracking technology and photos allowed Kreling and co-authors instead to look at how deer change their use of space during and immediately after large disturbances like wildfires, and how this event influenced their body condition and survival.

“Seeing the drastic changes on the landscape got me wondering what it’s like for animals on the land to actually deal with the repercussions of having an event like this sweep through,” Kreling said. “Having the infrastructure in place was very useful to see what happened before, compared to what happened after.”

Despite the challenges of having little to eat, all of the deer returned soon after the fire. Deer from burned areas had to work harder and travel farther to find green vegetation, and researchers noticed a decline in body condition in some of these animals. Still, their loyalty to home is a tactic that likely helped this species survive past wildfires.

It’s unknown whether this loyalty-to-home strategy will prove helpful, or harmful, in the future. Smaller wildfires encourage new vegetation growth — tasty for deer — but massive wildfires can actually destroy seed banks, which reduces the amount of plants available to eat. In this case, some of the deer that had to expand their home range to eat did so at the expense of their body condition.

“These deer have evolved this behavioral strategy that has clearly worked for them, but the big question mark is, as fires get more intense and frequent, will this behavior actually trap animals in these habitats that are seeing massive disturbances on the scale of nothing that has happened before in their evolutionary history,” Gaynor said.

The specific patterns observed with these deer likely can’t be applied to other large mammals in different regions, the authors said. But it’s an interesting case study to explore what extreme disturbances, like large wildfires, might mean for animals. Meanwhile, co-author Kendall Calhoun, a doctoral student at UC Berkeley, is continuing to look at the long-term effects of the fire on the health and reproductive capacity of this population of deer, which is still being tracked.

Other co-authors are Alex McInturff and Justin Brashares at UC Berkeley. This research was funded by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. For more information, contact Kreling at skreling@uw.edu and Gaynor at gaynor@nceas.ucsb.edu.

For more information about fire escape plans, call CJ Suppression at 888-821-2334 or visit the website at www.cjsuppression.com.

CJ Suppression proudly serves Corona, CA and all surrounding areas.

These California Communities Face the Highest Fire Risk | Corona, CA

From pricey gated neighborhoods to rural logging towns.

By Soumya Karlamangla \ Sept. 29, 2021

More than the videos of flying embers and glowing red skies, the images that still haunt me from the 2018 Camp fire are of cars lined up along exit routes, as people desperate to escape discovered they were trapped.

The fire destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 85 people, becoming the deadliest fire in California history. It’s a tragedy that raises an important question as California’s fire season appears to worsen each year: Can we predict the next Paradise?

There are a few ways to think about this, from looking at a region’s risk of megafires to its number of evacuation routes.

California officials rank an area’s wildfire risk — based on its vegetation, fire history and topography — as either moderate, high or very high. More than 2.7 million Californians live in parts of the state deemed very high risk, painted in bright red on the state’s wildfire danger map.

“These designations have proven eerily predictive about some of the state’s most destructive wildfires in recent years,” reads a 2019 analysis put together by several California newsrooms, pointing out that “nearly all of Paradise is colored in bright red.”

California is home to more than 75 communities, including Paradise, where at least 90 percent of residents live in these very high-risk swaths, the analysis found. The extremely fire-prone towns include:

  • Rancho Palos Verdes, Calabasas, La Cañada Flintridge, Palos Verdes Estates and Malibu in Los Angeles County
  • South Lake Tahoe and Pollock Pines in El Dorado County (both were evacuated in recent weeks)
  • Lake Arrowhead in San Bernardino County
  • Kensington in Contra Costa County

But there’s more to the story. This list covers places where a fire is most likely to break out, but it doesn’t reflect what happens once one does.

There were six exit routes in Paradise, but the fast-moving fire closed some and mass evacuations created traffic jams on the roads that were usable.

(It’s important to note that while traffic slowed evacuations in Paradise, fewer than 10 people who died were in their cars apparently trying to flee, according to an investigation by the Butte County district attorney. Most of those killed were older people in their homes.)

Across California, approximately 350,000 people live in fire zones that have no more evacuation routes per person than Paradise, according to the 2019 analysis. The places with relatively few exit routes include:

  • Highland Park, Eagle Rock, Pacific Palisades and Rancho Palos Verdes in Los Angeles County
  • Newbury Park, Oak Park and Moorpark in Ventura County
  • Carmel Valley and Jamesburg in Monterey County
  • Jamul, Ramona and Scripps Ranch in San Diego County
  • Big Bear, Minnelusa and Sugarloaf in San Bernardino County

Still, there are some important caveats here.

Just because there are exit routes doesn’t mean people will actually use all of them. In an emergency, many people are likely to opt for roads they know best, which could lead to traffic jams on the more popular ways out of town.

So, this summer, StreetLight Data, an analytics company in San Francisco, did a slightly different analysis.

Its researchers tallied exit routes in each community and measured their typical traffic loads using GPS data from cellphones. That allowed them to predict which routes people would be most likely to take during an evacuation.

StreetLight identified 15 places in California with more constrained evacuation routes than Paradise, ranging from some of the state’s most expensive gated neighborhoods to remote logging towns.

“It really cuts across income levels and terrain,” Martin Morzynski, the company’s vice president for marketing, told me. “When it’s smoky, things are hectic, what have you, people tend to take the road they know.”

The five places with the most limited evacuation routes were:

  • Bell Canyon in Ventura County
  • Brooktrails in Mendocino County
  • Lake California in Tehama County
  • North Shore in Riverside County
  • Coto De Caza in Orange County

Three major blazes have whipped through Bell Canyon, a hilly gated community home to about 2,000 residents, since Tim Brehm moved there in 1980.

Brehm, a retired high school teacher, prepares his home each year by clearing brush and maintaining hundreds of feet of defensible space around his home.

He knows there are two exit routes out of Bell Canyon but has never used either. He has always stayed behind to defend his property, though he acknowledged that fires appear to be growing more belligerent.

“I always have a viable escape plan: Keep my keys in my pocket and my truck is right there,” Brehm told me. “If everything goes south, then I’ll just get in my truck and go.”

How to prepare for wildfires:

  • Pack your go bag.
  • Ready your home.
  • Track wildfires near you.

For more information about wildfire safety, call CJ Suppression at 888-821-2334 or visit the website at www.cjsuppression.com.

CJ Suppression proudly serves Corona, CA and all surrounding areas.

What to Know About the Dixie Fire | Corona, CA

Tuesday: Although it rained on Monday, fire season is well underway. And the state’s biggest blaze is burning near areas scarred from the Camp Fire.

By Jill Cowan | July 27, 2021

Good morning.

There may have been rare July showers in parts of California on Monday. But make no mistake: The drought is still a threat. And fire season is underway.

The Dixie Fire, California’s largest wildfire this year, continued to burn through thousands of acres of rough terrain, prompting evacuation orders and threatening communities in a region scarred by the memory of the 2018 Camp Fire, the deadliest in the state’s history.

More than 5,400 firefighters were battling the Dixie Fire, which merged over the weekend with another nearby blaze, the Fly Fire, and had burned through about 200,000 acres, according to Cal Fire, the state’s fire agency.

That’s an area a little larger than New York City, and about half of the acreage burned by the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon, the nation’s largest this year. But the Bootleg Fire is burning in a more remote area; 300 people live within five miles of that blaze, according to The New York Times’s wildfire tracker, compared with 4,900 within five miles of the Dixie Fire.

The Dixie Fire started more than a week ago, just a couple of miles from the spot where the Camp Fire ignited, said Rick Carhart, a spokesman for Cal Fire in Butte County. That fire killed more than 80 people and all but leveled the remote town of Paradise.

“There really is so much — there’s no other word for it — PTSD,” Mr. Carhart said. “There’s so much anxiety.”

A stream of firefighting helicopters taking off from a nearby airport in recent days has flown over Magalia, a community that was also devastated by the Camp Fire. Residents there are out of the path of this year’s flames, Mr. Carhart said — but are still afraid.

“They see a helicopter with a bucket attached,” he said. “And it’s, ‘Oh my God, here we go again.’”

The two blazes also bear another chilling similarity: Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest utility, said last week that blown fuses on one of its utility poles may have sparked the Dixie Fire. PG&E pleaded guilty last year to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter for its role in starting the Camp Fire.

Mr. Carhart said that crews have been making progress in controlling the Dixie Fire, and the weather has been more cooperative in recent days than fire officials had predicted. Nevertheless, the size and timing of the blaze — which he said is already the 15th-largest in California’s recorded history — point to a future in which fires won’t be limited to a single season.

“One of the most concerning things about it is how early in the year it is,” Mr. Carhart.

Last year’s record-breaking wildfire season, during which millions of acres burned across California and the West, actually had a below-average start, he said, until widespread lightning strikes ignited tinder-dry vegetation in many remote areas.

Right now, Mr. Carhart said, the thousands of firefighters who are cutting fire lines, dousing hot spots or doing any of the other time-consuming, physically demanding work required of them, are looking at months before there’s likely to be rain, which heralds an end to the most intense fire activity.

In the past, he said, he might have expected a blaze like the Dixie Fire sometime in September — not July.

“We’re all kind of learning that fire season isn’t a three-month or six-month thing anymore,” he said.

For more information about home hardening tips, call CJ Suppression at 888-821-2334 or visit the website at www.cjsuppression.com.

CJ Suppression proudly serves Corona, CA and all surrounding areas.