The wildfire season is once again in full swing in southern California. One of the largest wildfires in recent years, the so-called Station Fire which occurred late in August 2009, has consumed more than 140, 000 acres of vegetation in the mountains just north of the densely populated Los Angeles Basin. These late summer/early fall fires typically follow very hot days with strong Santa Ana winds and minimal humidity.
In 2008 the wildfires in the San Gabriels started earlier than usual because of the heat and winds which followed a very mild winter with below normal precipitation. A massive fire started in mid-April in the hills above the town of Sierra Madre. Those hills had not burned in more than 30 years. The fire which scorched 530 acres in the foothills was extinguished only after hundreds of firefighters from surrounding counties were deployed for more than a week to fight the blazes. A month later another wildfire erupted in the lower ranges of Mount Baldy above Baldy Village and incinerated more than 420 acres. As was the case with the Sierra Madre fires, a massive deployment of fire-fighters was needed to control the blaze which fortunately barely avoided populated areas.
The Mt Wilson Trail starts in Sierra Madre and is very popular with local hikers. The 2008 wildfire ravaged the vegetation adjacent to the first 1.25 miles above town, up to the “First water” milepost. A month after the fires had been extinguished the landscape was dramatically denuded with most vegetation incinerated. However, upon close inspection of the devastation, a few green sprouts close to the roots could be seen. In April 2009 I hiked the same trail and was amazed at the speed of recovery on the hills. One has to keep in mind that the affected foothills are entirely dependent on natural precipitation because they are not within the range of any watering sprinkler systems. Moreover, I should emphasize that the affected burned slopes were facing south. During this last winter the rainfall was so sparse that severe water use restrictions were imposed in most cities of the LA basin. These pictures provide testimony to the speed of nature’s recovery in less than a year after devastating fires following several seasons of minimal water precipitation.
The fires above the Baldy Village also spared homes but incinerated most vegetation in the switchbacks for about a mile above “Bear Flats “of the Baldy Trail, which are slopes facing Southeast. I hiked the Baldy Trail after the wildfires (in late June 2008) and again one year later. The affected area lies above 5000 ft elevation so spring usually arrives later than in the lower elevations of the Mt Wilson Trail described above. Nevertheless, the vigorous re-growth of scrubs and chaparral was quite evident at the time these photos were taken.