Six on Saturday: Pompeii

The CZU Lightning Complex Fire got no closer than a mile and a half from here. Except for the ash and the aroma of smoke, there is not much evidence of a fire. The burn zone is within view from here, but the forest is just as green as it was prior to evacuation. I received news while away that smoking debris was falling from the sky here, so did not know what to expect when we returned. So many neighbors were not as fortunate.

1. Fire roasted leaves blew in from the fire. Some were still smoking as they fell. These are two madrone leaves at the top, three tanoak leaves at the bottom, and redwood below the middle.

2. Ash is everywhere! I left on the day prior to the yet unforeseen evacuation, with the intention of returning later, so left windows open. It now smells like a barbecued bacon burger in here.

3. Summer squash survived days of warm weather without irrigation. This was the worst of the wilt. There was nothing ‘ini’ about the ‘zucchini’. They looked like a herd of green dachshunds.

4. Pole beans were in reasonably good condition as well. They recovered rather efficiently after getting irrigated. The few beans that started to wilt and dry were just plucked and discarded.

5. Boxelder are suspiciously defoliating prematurely under a smoky orange sky. I do not know if it is associated with the smoke or the weather, but I doubt that President Trump is involved.

6. Blue gum that is still confined to a #15 can did not wilt any more than the summer squash or pole beans. I am impressed! It must have rooted into the ground below the bottom of the can.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate: https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

CZU Lightning Complex Fires

Lightning is very rare here. For half of the year between spring and autumn, rain is also very rare. Summers are long and dry. Weirdly though, if a storm passed through between spring and autumn, it usually involves lightning, and is usually within only a few days of the Feast of the Assumption, on August 15. This time, it arrived just about an hour after midnight on August 16.

It was warm that night, so the windows were open at home. There was a gust of wind in the cottonwoods that sounded like the Santa Ana Winds of the Los Angeles region, and the electricity went out, likely because the same gust knocked a tree onto cables elsewhere. The lighting might have started earlier, but became visible without electrical lights outside. I heard no thunder.

Lightning worries us while the weather is so warm and dry. It came without rain. Previously, humidity had been minimal. There was a faint aroma of smoke in the morning, but nothing was mentioned about fires during the day. That was Sunday. Monday was warmer and less humid, and smelled notably smokier as I left for the Santa Clara Valley, where I have been since then.

Fires that were started by the lightning in Bonny Doon was finally mentioned in the news on Tuesday, but did not seem to be a major concern. By the next morning, Boulder Creek was being evacuated! Brookdale and Ben Lomond were evacuated later on Wednesday. By this morning, Felton and everyone at work were being evacuated! Scott’s Valley and environs could be next!

It all happened so fast and I am miles away. Even if I were not miles away, I would need to go miles away with everyone else who was evacuated. I was told that ash and burned leaves were falling from the sky around my home this morning. I have never seen so much smoke over the Santa Cruz Mountains, or filling the sky of the Santa Clara Valley. I hope to never see it again.

This reblogged post is from my other blog at ‘Felton League’.

via CZU Lightning Complex Fires

Midnight Oil

P91027The electricity is still on here at 8:20 p.m.. I just turned the lights off to get the cool picture above. The outages in this region were scheduled to begin twenty minutes ago, so the electricity could be disconnected here at any moment. I may not finish writing and scheduling this to post later at midnight before that happens. So, if you are not reading this presently, you know why.

Before you waste another second thinking about that, I will tell you now that it makes no sense.

Scheduled electrical outages are now one of the consequences of living in this excellent place. We live with trees. Some of these trees are the biggest in the World. Some are very combustible. Regardless of the diligence of those who prune trees to maintain clearance from utility cables, big trees are likely to drop limbs onto cables, causing sparks that can ignite combustible trees.

The electricity just went out at 8:40 p.m..

As I was saying, we also live with weather. It happens to be excellent weather. It is pleasantly warm through summer, with minimal humidity and an almost constant cooling breeze. When the weather gets a bit too warm, it compensates with lower humidity and increased breeze. Unfortunately, this combination of weather is precisely what accelerates the worst of forest fires.

Scheduled electrical outages are intended to coincide with forecasts of weather conditions that are dangerously conducive to the initiation and perpetuation of forest fires. As inconvenient as they are, such outages are a sensible precaution.

The smoke that made such a colorful sunset earlier is from a fire in nearby forests, on the southern coast of San Mateo County.

Now, I will go to town to see if I can find someplace to get online to schedule this for midnight.

Electrical Outage

P91012KWarnings were broadcast in local news for a few days prior. Because of the extreme potential for catastrophic forest fires, electrical service was to be disabled to our region, and large areas of California. Weather was predicted to be warm, windy and dry (with minimal humidity). Such conditions are exactly what cause fires to spread so explosively through the overgrown forests.

The potential for sparks from electrical cables, especially as debris gets blown onto to them, was why the electricity needed to be disabled. Supposedly, it is more likely for fires to be started by sparks from utility cables than by sparks from the many generators and barbecues that compensate for a lack of electricity. These considerations are taken very seriously in this region.

There are many reasons why the local forests are more combustible than they would naturally be. The less combustible redwood forests were clear cut harvested about a century ago, which stimulated a proliferation of more combustible vegetation. Containment of fires since then has allowed an accumulation of combustible vegetation, but inhibited growth of fresher vegetation.

Regardless, many of us had our doubts about the necessity of the outages, which were actually delayed as the forecast weather was slow to develop. Tuesday happened to be one of the most humid days of summer, and might have been the most humid. It was not particularly warm, and was actually relatively cool. Wind was strangely lacking. The weather was really quite bland.

When this picture was taken early Wednesday morning, the street lamp was still on. Dew condensed on the parked car below as the weather cooled overnight. There was no breeze to dry it. The planned outage was delayed for a while, but eventually happened at about 10:30 that night, and stayed out for most of Thursday. It got a bit warmer and drier, but not like predicted.

Most of us accepted it as part of living in such a forested region. A few were annoyed by the associated inconveniences, particularly since it all seemed to be unnecessary. However, what few of us at lower elevations and in town were aware of was that there really were somewhat powerful winds at higher elevations near the summit, and that humidity had dropped significantly.

After electrical service was restored, we could see news coverage of the Saddleridge Fire in Los Angeles County. Unfortunately, fire is a part of nature here. The forests and ecosystems are designed for it. This was the first planned electrical outage here, but will not likely be the last. Those who appreciate living here, and know how the ecosystem works, will be willing to adapt.

Exfoliating Bark

P90720KBecause redwoods live for centuries, their bark gets very thick. They do not shed their bark as they grow. Old giant redwoods in the Sierra Nevada have bark that is a few feet thick and thousands of years old. Their bark is thicker than the trunks of what most of us consider to be large trees! Even much younger coastal redwoods that have regenerated here since clear cut harvesting about a century ago have bark that is a few inches thick.
They like their bark thick. It is the insulation that protects them from forest fires that incinerate other vegetation. Unlike most species here that are designed to burn and then regenerate more vigorously after fire, redwoods prefer to survive fire by being less combustible. As they mature, and their bark gets thicker, they become more resilient to fire. There are only a few species here that survive fire mostly intact, rather than regenerate after it.
Of course, survival is more complicated than mere thick bark. Redwoods, particularly coastal redwoods, also try to exclude other more combustible species from their forests. Also, they tend to shed lower limbs that would be more combustible during a fire, and prioritize higher and therefore less combustible canopies. Redwoods have developed a rather ingenious (but unfortunately ecologically delicate) systems of survival techniques.
Other trees are not so easy to figure out. Many species of Eucalyptus shed lower growth as if they want to be less combustible. They shed copious amounts of foliage and bark to inhibit undergrowth and other combustible vegetation. However, not only are they innately very combustible, but because they shed so much of their bark, they lack insulation from fire. It is as if they expect to burn back to the ground, and then regenerate after a fire.
Regardless of their logic, exfoliating bark of the larger eucalypti can be annoyingly messy. Exfoliating bark of some of the smaller eucalypti can be rather appealing in home gardens. This tree happens to be the same featured last week in ‘Silver‘.P90720K+

More Smoke

P81110KFire has always been a part of life in most of California. That is why almost all native flora benefits from it, and has developed an efficient system and schedule for not only living with it, but exploiting it.
Within a few years after a fire, the pioneer species are the first to regenerate. They are aggressive, but short lived. Some are annuals. Others are trees that grow fast and then die out as the slower growing but longer lived trees dominate. Some of the longer lived trees might have been there all along, since they have developed ways of surviving fire.
Big valley oaks and coast live oaks that live out in the open away from other forest trees can survive for centuries because the grasses around them burn off fast and relatively harmlessly. Giant redwoods and some pines survive by standing high above the more combustible fuel below. Coastal redwood survives for centuries by being less combustible than other species. Desert fan palms protect their single terminal buds inside their massive non combustible trunks, while their beards of old dead foliage burns hot enough to incinerate competing species. There are too many ingenious ways that plants survive fire and even use it to their advantage to write about; but the point is that they know what they are doing, and they know how to live with fire.
This system of ecology has been disrupted, but not just by people cutting down too many trees and starting too many fires. The problem now is that not enough trees are getting cut down, and fires are unable to burn that which relies on burning.
In this region, pioneer species and an unnatural mix of forest trees moved in where the redwoods were harvested. This makes what had been less combustible redwood forest more combustible than it naturally is. It will take centuries for the redwoods to reclaim their territory and crowd out more of the hardwood trees. Also, because the redwoods regenerate with many trunks from each individual trunk that was harvested, even the redwoods are more crowded and combustible than they would naturally be. While they are still relatively young, their foliar canopies are low and intermingled with the other more combustible trees. It is certainly not possible to cut down enough trees to repair the damage, but protecting too many of the wrong trees and outlawing selective harvest of second growth redwood only promotes combustibility of the local forests.
Other forests, whether formerly harvested or not, experience similar problems. Because they are not burning as frequently as they used to, they are not being regularly purged and restored, but are instead becoming more crowded and combustible than they would naturally be. Diseases and pathogens are proliferating in the geriatric vegetation, and vegetation that succumbs provide more fuel, which also enhances combustibility.
Although there are many (MANY) more fires that are started by human activity now than there ever was naturally, such fires can not burn the vast areas that naturally occurring fires had naturally burned. There are just too many of us living and working here. Forests that are deprived of fire continue to proliferate more combustible biomass. Again, there is no remedy to this. Fires must be controlled and confined as much as possible.
Paradise is gone now. It burned on Thursday. Our region more than two hundred miles to the south is gray with abundant smoke from the Camp Fire that continues to burn there. Two other major fires burn in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties, more than three hundred miles to the south of here. Paradise Park just to the south of here was protected from the much smaller Rincon Fire that filled the Valley with harsh smoke for days after it was contained. Sadly, for this region, this is all part of nature.P81110K+

I do not remember on what days these pictures were taken. The first picture at the top was taken toward the sunrise, just prior to sunrise. The second picture above was taken later after noon, probably on the same day. The two pictures below were taken in the evening, perhaps on the day after. P81110K++P81110K+++

Smoke!

P81104K.JPGWhat a surprise. There was none when I went in to use the computer as the sun came up into a clear blue sky this morning. When I came outside just a few hours later, it was everywhere. It was so thick and so aromatic that it was obviously very close, but it did not smell like it was in the ponderosa pines around Scott’s Valley where I happened to be at the time. Once I got on the road back to Felton, I could see that besides the monochromatic ambient smoke that obscured the surrounding hills, a prominent and much thicker brown cloud of smoke hovered low over the San Lorenzo Valley. The smoke was even thicker in Felton, and obscures the range to the west where Bonny Doon is. As I write this in Felton Covered Bridge Park, ash is falling onto the computer screen.
The fire has apparently been burning since last night in the Pogonip, closer to Santa Cruz, and is now contained. Paradise Park has been evacuated. Highway 9 is closed between here and there. Sirens announce the arrivals and departures of firetrucks as they migrate into town from the south on Highway 9, and back south toward Santa Cruz on Graham Hill Road and Mount Hermon Road, as if even they can not get through on Highway 9. Heavy helicopters can be heard but not seen off to the south. A cumbersome airplane is circling the area.
There is not much of a breeze. It seems as if it has not gotten as warm as predicted for today. The smoke and sirens sets the mood. It is not good, even though we know that the fire is contained.
Fire is part of life here. Clear cut harvesting of redwood more than a century ago allowed more combustible specie to proliferate over the area and among the redwoods as they recover and regenerate. The forest is now more combustible than it has ever been, but can not be allowed to burn with so many of us living here. Without burning, it becomes more combustible.

Fire!

P71018Fire is part of life here. It is a risk that those of us who live in the Santa Cruz Mountains must accept. We live in forests full of abundant vegetation fuel, where fire crews and equipment have limited access. The horrible Tubbs Fire that recently burned an urban neighborhood in Santa Rosa demonstrates how destructive, risky and unpredictable fires can be. That neighborhood was in town, outside of forests, where fire is not such a commonly accepted risk.

This morning, October 17, on the anniversary of the Loma Prieta Earthquake, our community woke to a fire of our own. The sunrise looked more like a colorful sunset, with orange and tan smoke everywhere. The ash that had fallen from the sky made it seem like there had been a cremation party last night. It is getting to look like Pompeii around here. The fire started last night as a house fire near Bear Creek Road outside of Boulder Creek, and moved into more than a hundred acres of forest. Crews from as far away as San Jose responded quickly, and seem to be containing it. The region was evacuated, and Bear Creek Road was temporarily closed. The fire is only 5% contained as I write this before noon. Fortunately, the humidity is up, and the temperature is down.

Fire is more than a part of life for us. It is part of nature. Although almost all fires here are caused by human activity now, fires had been burning forests and wildlands long before humans arrived. There certainly were not as many fires, but without anyone here to suppress them, they burned much larger areas for much more time. A fire started by lightning early in summer could burn for hundreds of miles until extinguished by a storm the following autumn. A single such fire could easily burn more area than all unnatural fires now burn each year. There were likely several such fires annually. That is why old photographs show that California was historically not as densely forested as it is now. Forests simply burned more regularly.

Many plant species know how to work with fire. A few, such as the giant redwood and coastal redwood, survive fire by being relatively noncombustible. They only burn if other vegetation around them gets extremely hot. Most of the pines do not mind burning because their cones open to disperse seed after getting cooked by fire. The seed germinate quickly the following winter to reforest the area that was just cleared by fire. If they are fortunate, they grow up and dominate the forest before other vegetation does, only to burn again a few decades later.

Then there are a few plants that take this technique a step further. Monterey pine is innately sloppy. By that, I mean that it holds much of its old dead limbs instead of shedding them. Lower limbs collect significant volumes of fallen needles, instead of letting the needles fall to the forest floor. Consequently, when a Monterey pine forest burns, it gets hot enough to incinerate competing vegetation and its seeds. Monterey pine cones do not burn completely. They insulate the seeds within just long enough to survive the quick and hot fire, and then open afterward to disperse seed. This is a significant advantage to the Monterey pine, even though they get incinerated too. Not much more than their own seed survives to dominate the forest.

California fan palms (and the related Mexican fan palms) collect long and very combustible beards of dead fronds. When they burn, they likewise incinerate everything below them. The single terminal buds of the palm trees remain safely insulated inside their thick trunks, and will regenerate later as if nothing every happened.

This tactic sounds violent, but it works for the trees that use it. However, enhanced combustibility is not such an asset in home gardens. That is why it is so important to either plant combustible plants at a distance from homes and buildings, or to maintain them so that they are not allowed to collect fuel.

If palms are allowed to wear their beards long enough to reach the ground, other combustible plants should not be allowed to get too overgrown around them. Alternatively, palms can be allowed to wear long beards if the lower portions are pruned up and away from other combustible plants.

Just like there are several plants that are not notably combustible, there are some that are notably combustible. Pines, cypresses, firs, spruces, cedars, junipers, acacias and eucalypti, although useful and appealing in the right situations, all happen to be notably combustible.