|2013 Mountain Fire - image by Kevin Snow|
The latest News on the 2013 Mountain Fire which burned 27,531 acres, was started by an electrical equipment failure on private property in the Mountain Center area and destroyed 23 structures, seven of which were homes, in the first 24 hours while also forcing the evacuation of hundreds. At its peak, the fire, fueled by extremely dry brush, hot weather and wind, blackened skies over much of the Coachella Valley and rained ashes on homes and cars, spurring health warnings due to poor air quality caused by the smoke. The New Reports that I followed throughout this fire event were quoting all the experts who were saying the fire was extremely unusual as it was behaving like a Santa Ana wind driven fire which are normally encountered in the Fall. It destroyed prime wildlife habitat which in my opinion, given Climate Change circumstances, will not recover as well as they believe it will. But then, that's just my opinion.
To Richard Minnich, a fire scientist at U.C. Riverside’s Department of Earth Sciences, this disaster is a poster child for how Southern California wildfires should burn.
“We got an old growth forest that burned slowly in good weather,” he said. “We got a fantastic housecleaning. Someone finally vacuumed the rugs.”
Data from: http://www.wrh.noaa.gov
“That forest until last week was much denser than it was in 1908,” said Phil Unitt, the museum’s curator of birds and mammals. Dense enough to alter fauna, said researchers, who note that three species have vanished since Grinnell’s time. One of those is the San Bernardino flying squirrel – a big-eyed, gliding rodent which sails through open canopies. Its disappearance has been attributed to changes in food, water and climate, but Tremor thinks it may have simply lost the space to soar."Okay, so now the Flying Squirrels probably had no place to soar because of all the dense chaparral smothering the Trees and that's why they're in decline or totally gone in some areas ? Has anybody here reading ever hiked up into the high country of Mount San Jacinto Wilderness State Park ? Can you tell me, what does the forest cover look like up there ? Is it really as dense and crowded like Idyllwild or as the lower chaparral plant community ? Remember, they were talking about an area of mostly 7000' and up to Mount San Jacinto Peak of 10,833' (3,302 m). Now for those unfamiliar with the terrain and plant community up there, please take a look.
|photo image: yelp.com & Nick E.|
"Another suite of animals, however, 'thrives on the thicket'. Two birds, the Hermit Thrush and Townsend’s Solitaire, weren't present when Grinnell studied the mountain, but have appeared in recent years, Unitt said. The Brown Creeper was present in Grinnell’s time but is far more numerous now."Now I'm really puzzled, the chaparral is almost always demonized, but as a result of old growth Chaparral Elfin Forest in some areas, these birds and perhaps other wildlife have actually benefited and increased as a result of old growth Chaparral ? So was this a bad thing or a good thing then ? One of the components I rarely see mentioned or spoken about is how abundant wildlife[especially larger animals], aside from fire may have dealt a housekeeper service with keeping vegetation down and perhaps not allowing fires to no get so out of control. Also fires no doubt would have happened in Nature during those very real moderate weather events with monsoon or winter storms when conditions would have been less favourable for megafire. But again, here's another quote:
“When the fire got into the park it was for the most part not a crown fire, it was a creeping ground fire," Ken Kietzer said. "That is going to be very favorable to reducing the buildup of ground fuels and thinning out some of the smaller, shade tolerant understory, which will probably in the long run be a benefit for the park.”The conditions up in the high country have a sparser vegetation than down below and there were no favourable moderate conditions. Even just before the fire was shut down by Nature's downpour of almost 2 inches of rain, the winds were heavy and blowing the thing in a westerly direction towards Pine Cove/Idyllwild. [see image at bottom of post] During the fire and watching the video recordings of News Reports, and listening to the Fire Management Spokesman, they kept saying what a dangerous fire this was because it's behavior was that of an Autumn Fire when hot dry Santa Ana winds blow a fire into an unstoppable megafire. So it wasn't a good weather pattern after all. So much for that theory. Then other quotes like this one:
“Some of the fuels out there are really old and really decadent, and have changed the forest,” said Anne Poopatanapong, district biologist for the Forest Service. “So what you’re seeing is not necessarily the way the fire would naturally occur.”
|image: Press Enterprise |
Bald Eagle nest in dead tree snag at Big Bear Lake, CA
"A 1898 timber assessment by U.S. Geological Survey surveyor John B. Leiberg stated that the absence of decayed ground cover and leaf litter in the San Jacintos makes “the occurrence of hot and lasting fires in the forest impossible.”
"Southern California forests are two to three times denser than they were then, Minnich said, and pack far more ground fuel. The thickly wooded peaks of Mt. San Jacinto hadn’t burned in 130 years he said – more than twice the site’s historic 50-year fire cycle."Ah yes, John B. Leiberg. Please take note that the statement about absence of decayed ground cover along with lack of leaf litter was originally NOT describing the conditions of the San Jacinto Mountains or any other So-Cal mountains, but rather northern California. And the 50 year burn cycle preached by Minnisch is also another falsehood. It's a modern day myth sprinkled with the peer-pressured pixie dust of Government Mandates for the way it ought to be. Here is what Prof. Chad Hanson had to say on this same exact study, but along with more context. First off, Chad Hanson has a Ph.D. in Ecology from the University of California at Davis, with a research focus on forest and ﬁre ecology in western U.S. conifer forests. He's the Director of the John Muir Project (www.johnmuirproject.org), and is a researcher in the Plant and Environmental Sciences department at the University of California at Davis. Here's the quote from his website on the same exact John B. Leiberg study: (found here, pg, 14 & 15)
"In the late 19th century, John B. Leiberg and his team of United States Geological Survey researchers spent several years mapping forest conditions, including ﬁre intensity in the central and northern Sierra Nevada. Leiberg recorded all high-intensity patches over 80 acres (32 ha) in size occurring in the previous 100 years The Myth of “Catastrophic” Wildﬁre A New Ecological Paradigm of Forest Health 15 (Leiberg 1902). Using modern GIS vegetation and physiographic information, Hanson (2007a) compared ﬁre locations to forest type and site conditions to examine patterns of high-intensity ﬁre events, excluding areas that had been logged in the 19th century in order to eliminate the potentially confounding effect of logging slash debris (branches and twigs left behind by loggers). Hanson (2007a) used areas that Leiberg had mapped as having experienced 75-100% timber volume mortality."
Hanson (2007a) found that high-intensity ﬁre was not rare in historic Sierra Nevada forests, as some have assumed. Over the course of the 19th century, within Leiberg’s study area, encompassing the northern Sierra Nevada, approximately one-fourth to one-third of middle and upper elevation westside forests burned at highintensity (75100% mortality) (Hanson 2007a). This equates to ﬁre rotation intervals for high-intensity ﬁre of roughly 400 to 300 years (i.e., for a ﬁre rotation interval of 300 years, a given area would tend to burn at high severity once every 300 years on average). Available evidence indicates that current rates of high-intensity ﬁre are considerably lower than this overall (Hanson 2007a). For example, the Final EIS for the 2004 Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment indicates that, on average, there are about 15,000 acres of high-intensity ﬁre occurring per year in Sierra Nevada forests (entire Sierra Nevada included) (USDA 2004). Given the size of the forested area in the Sierra Nevada, about 13 million acres (Franklin and Fites-Kaufman 1996), this equates to a highintensity ﬁre rotation interval of more than 800 years in current forests (longer rotation intervals correspond to less high-intensity ﬁre).
May I suggest you click on the link and read the page 15 in it's entirety John Muir Project Technical Report 1 • Winter 2010 • www.johnmuirproject.org
This tree is bigger than you think.
Notice the still living lower limbs ?
(click to enlarge)
Another point he insisted on is that the every 50 years the fire burn kept everything looking like a Park. While I believe large valley floors like Garner Valley and Strawberry Valley [Idyllwild] probably could have been this way, it still didn't acquire such status of every 50 years of burning. The Mountain Fire burn though was not on a valley floor however, it was on steep slopes where dense growth is necessary for holding a mountain together like so much rebar in concrete. Valleys and chaparral are different. Ground is richer in nutrients, there is generally more water and graslands tend to dominate. Both of these places also were targeted by the logging companies who harvested the majority of those giant trees unchecked and without any consideration to restoration management programs. Early pioneers were greedy idiots. Now take a look at one more picture comparison. Minnich says that if Firefighters allowed everything to go ahead and burn instead of suppressing the fires, he insists all would turn into that perfect mythical park. The problem is he is blaming the fire fighters themselves for saving people's homes and lives, in what he calls fire suppression. And to make clear here again, there was NO favourable weather happening with this Mountain Fire, not till the end after most of the damage was done. So what is a fire fighter supposed to do ? The worst hit place with loss of buildings and homes was the Pine Springs Ranch up Apple Canyon Road. I've been to this ranch and the end of the road community back in the early 1980s and it was always extremely well manicured manicured and park-like just as he insists will save things. Take a look at the historical photo of the Ranch before the fire.
|by Gerry Chudleigh (2011)|
"The biggest personal loss was the house occupied by the facility manager, Fritz Wuttke, his wife and two teen sons. Their home burned to the ground with everything they owned. Other structures destroyed included the camp store, the maintenance building, and the multi-million dollar sewage treatment plant. Several other buildings were damaged, including the Town Hall and staff houses, but the largest buildings on the property – the 80-room lodge, the dining room and kitchen, the multi-purpose building and the camper cabins -- were not damaged."
Oh gee lookie there, the trees did make it, but
no such luck for those Pine Springs Ranch
buildings. But by golly, give me five, it is a
win for Nature after all. *sigh*
On a sad note, studies will be done to determine if they need to seed the area for flood and erosion control. Best thing they could do now is leave well enough alone, they've already done enough damage. Who knows what that will bring to the table.BTW, here below is a Satellite image link of the last gasps of the Mountain Fire before massive wave of Thunderstorms saved the day for fire fighters and the communities threatened by it. You'll notice Palm Springs and other community lights, see the two major Lightning Storms and what is still a pretty intense fire in the high country of the Mount San Jacinto Wilderness Park itself being now blown by very intense high east blowing winds towards the west as the smoke trail reveals. In the Satellite image, you can clearly see it headed towards Idyllwild/Pine Cove, but not before high humidity and 1.6 inches of rain fall on it.
NASA Satellite Image of Mountain Fire
"Lightning storms inland of Los Angeles and San Diego as seen from the International Space Station on July 21. The storms helped douse California’s Montain Fire. Click for a larger version. (Photo: Karen L. Nyberg/NASA)"
Further reading on Land Management & Fire Ecology