California’s deadliest wildfire is now 100% contained. The Camp Fire in Butte County killed 84 people, destroyed 14,000 homes and burned 153,000 acres. The Woolsey Fire in Los Angeles and Ventura County killed 3 people, destroyed 1,600 structures and charred 96,000 acres, including more than 80% of the Santa Monica Mountains federal parkland. Soils in both areas now have greatly reduced ability to absorb rain flows and can lead to runoff problems and debris flows depending on coming storms.
Douglas Kent, an expert on firescaping and an adjunct professor at Cal Poly Pomona, can discuss steps homeowners can take to protect wildfire-scorched yards from rain and foster growth and the types of plants that can help protect property from fire. A specialist in ecological land management, he is the author of Firescaping: Creating fire-resistant properties, landscapes, and gardens in California’s diverse environments (2005) and the principal of Douglas Kent + Associates. He has been working in California’s landscapes for over 30 years.
“With homeowners in wildfire zones returning to their properties, a new battle begins: protecting their precious topsoil before the winter rains begin. Fires cook the waxes that are natural to our soils. When these waxes cool, they coat the first inch of soil with a repellent layer, stopping water from infiltrating.
“Resist the urge to dump mulch on the property. It won’t stop erosion, but it will stifle the new growth of weeds and other seeds that are crucial to holding the damaged soil in place. We need to hold our ground, so try to shrug off the fire fatigue and do these things as soon as you can:
“Dampen your soil – This first watering should be super light — use a fine spray to dampen only the top quarter-inch of the soil. Once the soil starts absorbing those little showers, begin deeper waterings. Then break out the hoes, clear drainage systems, take steps to divert runoff, tread lightly or not at all on damaged soils.”
Erin Questad is an expert on wildlands restoration post-wildfires and an associate professor of biological sciences at Cal Poly Pomona. Her research combines high-resolution remote sensing data with field-based studies to improve wildland restoration outcomes in dry ecosystems. Following wildfires in the Angeles National Forest, one project involve mapping vegetation change to identify sites that might have the best success with human intervention. A second project is testing how to select which restoration treatments to use in different areas of the Angeles National Forest.
“California ecosystems are adapted to fire and many of them will recover naturally. For ecosystems that were healthiest, they will likely not need human intervention. Climate change, the drought and the presence of invasive species however make it harder for some ecosystems to recover naturally.”
“The fires have presented an opportunity to implement some restoration plans that were already taking shape to repair drought damage, such as replanting native species and removing invasive species.”
“I recently completed a mapping project in the Santa Monica Mountains looking for places where restoration would be most successful. We used terrain modelling to find sweet spots, highly suitable places where plant growth is a bit faster. This might be an area that has a little more water or is a little more protected from the wind. We can find and map those places where the plants will be a little happier, and we can begin there to replant native plants that have been grown in greenhouses. This method is really useful after fires when it is too dangerous to physically visit some places. We can still collect data from above to help with post-fire restoration planning.”