December 28, 2017 – As the initial fear, shock and panic prompted by the Thomas fire begins to fade, I realize how ill prepared we were and the critical need for more information to help us understand, cope and become more resilient in these changing times. The high wind speed combined with five years of below average rainfall brought the landscape to a critical state. I’m looking to others for help to understand, explain and adapt to this new climate change. Thanks to Kit Stolz for a recent article in the Ojai Quarterly Winter 2017-2018 p.112 theojai.net on thinking globally and acting locally in the age of hotter temperatures and altered ecosystems. I’m also following Daniel Swain of http://weatherwest.com/ who was the first to notice and post on Facebook about the hot spots forming in Santa Paula from the Thomas Fire.
On December 28th, I followed up with Richard Halsey, Director of the California Chaparral Institute and author of Fire, Chaparral, and Survival in Southern California. His book describes lessons learned from past fires in Southern California, and he has much to teach as we in the Ojai Valley begin the discussions about fire preparedness, fire safety and recovery.
A little history — I’ve heard Richard speak several times — he came to Ojai on March 14 2015 to speak on the Chaparral ecosystems at the invitation of the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy. https://ovlc.org/chaparral-ecosystem-rick-halsey-chaparral-institute/ I was at that talk and walk. Richard explained the fire hazards and risks and lessons learned for areas located in Chaparral biomes, then we went for a walk along the Ventura River to better understand the growth/recovery patterns of Chaparral plants.
We talked recently about the recent Thomas Fire , with my notes as follows:
Chaparral plants do return if there is adequate rainfall the year following the fire. The high heats of this type of fire are best for recovery of chaparral. Hydrophobic soils should not be a concern given the rock formations and soil properties in the mountains above Ojai. Ceanothus might not come back if rainfall is very low. Thinning out vegetation and creating defensible space should start now, but care needs to be taken not to remove plants that were burned but may still spring back to life after it rains.
When seasonal rainfall begins, erosion and flooding could still be a concern along roadways, creeks and barrancas.
Creating and maintaining proper defensible space is something that can be done now, but the first order of business is to examine the home and reduce its flammability directly. See Protecting Your Home From Fire, more information here and info below on roof top irrigation systems.
Wild birds do not eat packaged birdseed, they survive mostly on insects and seasonal berries or seeds. Most bird species will eat almost anything when the chips are down. A fair number of wild birds that inhabit suburban communities like finches and sparrows do indeed eat packaged bird seed. Here is a link to Plants and Animals of the Chaparral.In Ojai, the best way to support wildlife is to create wildlife gardens with habitat (food, water, shelter) to support wildlife. We would need to create a local list of CA Native plant species for our area. See Resources below.
A good way to protect property in the wild land urban interface corridor that is vulnerable to fire damage is to install roof top irrigations systems, with diesel powered pumps and a water supply from either a pool, pond or rain tank/cistern. Property owner would be able to evacuate yet keep the residential area hydrated with a dedicated irrigation system. Doing a quick google search, I found more info on roof top sprinkler systems here and your website has a good section on external sprinklers, http://www.californiachaparral.com/bprotectingyourhome.html.
with more instructions in this paper Mitchell JW Ex Sprinklers 2006
There is some concern for all the dozers used to create fire break roads that disturb the soil and bring in weeds/grasses, which burn rapidly, are invasive and trigger more wildland fires. Many people blame clogged forests and too many trees for our fires, when in fact trees had nothing to do it them at all. These were chaparral and grassland fires. This forest issue is one of the major misconceptions you work with.
Ojai could market itself for ecotourism by promoting wildflower blooms in fire recovery areas (not sure where but usually around March or April) depending on rainfall.
With water allocations still in effect from Casitas Municipal Water District, and Stage 4 drought allocations expected to be imposed in April 2018, along with the threat of earthquakes being real in Southern CA, we also need to keep potable water supplies in mind for our basic health and sanitation needs. Installing a dedicated water source with a pump to irrigate the rooftop of your home helps with fire suppression. New building codes are needed to support outdoor roof irrigation systems and tanks with drafting connections for fire suppression. By incorporating on-site non-potable water reuse systems into our codes we can empower more ecological water harvesting professionals to get properly trained to help homeowners with creating more defensible (and resilient) homes (even tiny ones).
“How much water do I need? If the pump delivers water at 60 gpm, then you will need 600 gallons to give a 10 minute supply — or 3600 gallons to provide water for 1 hour. For fire fighting purposes, the use of foam will lower the amount of water required for the same level of protection.”
2411 Stanwood Drive/Route 192 (corner of Mission Ridge Road), Santa Barbara. Located across the street from Fire Station #7, this 1.7-acre labeled model garden demonstrates how risks of wildfire can be reduced through appropriate planting of low-water using plants, irrigation, and management. Open 8 am to sunset every day. Free. Firescape Photo Gallery . Photo Tour with Plant Labels
Sunday, December 17 – – – Day 13 after the Thomas Fires started on December 5 which swept through and engulfed the Ojai Valley — we are grateful to all the FIRST RESPONDERS! The Ojai community is still on high alert, trying to understand the air quality challenges and get clean air to breathe, assessing the damage from the fire and helping those in need. I will update as plans are developed and new Water Wise events are known.
Meanwhile, here are links to information on current status of fires, air quality and ways to clean up the ash. My favorite websites for very good info:
First off, are you signed up for VC Alert, and readyventuracounty.org?
A word about AIR QUALITY – I now understand there are five pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment including: carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulate matter (10µm or less and 2.5µm or less), as well as sulfur dioxide. The ash from the air continues to fall, but it is the fine particulate matter (that we can not see ) that is the worst on our health.
The Air Quality Index (AQI) is the official index for air quality across the United States. The AQI ranges from 0-50 (Good) to 500 (Extremely Hazardous). The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health concern.