“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” That old margarine commercial was lame back in the 1970s, but the quote is so true. Inadvertent interference with the natural process of wildfires has unfortunately increased the combustibility of the flora of forests and wildlands throughout California. No one really meant to interfere with the process. It is just what happens when we need to protect our homes and properties from fire.
The longer the vegetation is deprived of fire, the more overgrown and combustible it becomes. If deprived of fire long enough, many plants start to succumb to insect infestation and disease, and they become more combustible as they deteriorate and die. To make matters worse, so many of the exotic (non-native) plants that have been introduced into California are just as combustible, and some are even more combustible than native flora!
Combustibility is certainly no accident on their part. It is part of their ecology. Very few woody plants that are native to California even try to survive fire. The two specie of redwoods protect themselves with thick noncombustible bark so that they can recover from fire, even if much of the foliage gets burned away. Desert fan palms also recover after fire, after fueling it with their very combustible old fronds in order to incinerate competing specie. They are experts on this sort of ecology!
Most plants specie are neither so determine to survive fire, nor so creative in exploiting it as the desert fan palm is. They just live and die with it, only to regenerate and start the process all over again. Many release their seed as they burn. Some pines protect their seed within thick cones that open to disperse seed afterward. Seed of some specie need to be scarified by heat to germinate only after fire. Everyone want to be the first to exploit new real estate freshly cleared by fire, and they are always working on techniques to give them an advantage.
The problem with these processes is that they are not compatible with our lifestyles. As several big wildfires continue to burn throughout Southern California, another fire started early this morning just east of the Sepulveda Pass of the San Diego Freeway in Bel Air.