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10-09-08 - Notes on the results of the recent fire that threatened Tassajara

See more including photos at Tassajara Fire '08

In August I was at Tassajara for ten days to do my usual stint as guest dish washer. Clay and Katrinka worked in the kitchen. We took lots of walks. Went downstream and back and upstream and back, each of those taking seven hours. Walked up and around on the overlook trail and way up the mountain there as a sidetrip. Went up on the hogback of course and up to the top of it as well. In September Katrinka went to help out in the work period - I drove her in and picked her up, spending the night each time and working at Mary Cunov's in Carmel Valley for three days in between.

What struck me and what struck a lot of people who go there is how much didn't burn, how much is green. The reports I've seen and most of the photos naturally tend to focus on what did burn but that's just part of the story. Two US Forest Service rangers I talked to summed it up well by saying there was "a healthy mosaic" by which they meant the pattern of burned and unburned areas.

Walking around Tassajara one sees where the fire tried to come in and burned a tree here and there - and the firewood shed at the entrance, the toilet and changing hut at the pool, and part of the long term compost structure at Grasshopper Flats. And of course the makeshift slipping cabin called the Birdhouse on the steep slope above the central area was gone. I was pleased and surprised to see the wonderful bridge at the end of the Flats wasn't burned.

As Grahame Ross who stayed with the fire told me when I remarked at how the further one looks up and away from Tassajara the more that is burned - the fire came in in fingers and crept out that way too. The hillside on the other side of the creek has these fingers of black and burned but is almost entirely green. As one approaches the top however - beyond what you see from below - the blackness and ash covers a higher and higher percentage. They mountains upcreek look like Baja California over a good deal of their surface - but there were areas of green.

Walking up and down creek it was great to see so much of the poison oak had been reduced to ash. I often found myself ankle deep in ash. There were many trees and areas burned, but plenty remained. You could see bright green shoots popping up all over through the ash and from the base of trees and plants. I was worried about loosing the Yerba Santa I love to chew on till I saw the tiny green leaves at the base of their charred skeletons. Badly burned Sycamore trees tended to have unusually large leaves bursting out from their base.

The worst is Flag Rock. The mountainside on the other side of the road has plenty of trees left and a good deal survived on the Flag Rock mountain too but a lot of the minimal to begin with plant life is gone. Rocks have been falling on the road and especially on the pool side. People fear worse when the rains start.

The drive in affords one sweeping views of vast stretches of the burned and unburned. thanks thanks to the devastation of the obstructionist chaparral (I think) up top. It needs to be controlled - I've seen it burned away before and it just came back stronger. There need to be observation points up there. These plants have seeds that germinate only after fires so I don't worry about them. Mainly I think about how to trim them and picture driving along with a wide blade that cuts them down to size along the road and reveals the great views (while leaving them and their roots there to hold the soil in.

Overall I'd say the fire is a healthy blessing for the forest. The forest needs them and we people need them to come through and clear things out so we can walk in them and the animals need that too. I think we need more small fires so we don't get big fires that are too destructive. That's common knowledge now and policy as well.

Long live Tassajara and may Los Padres National Forest thrive.

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