|I wonder if this is the first photo of the Rocky Fire... it was taken at either 4:01 PM, Cal Fire says it started at 3:29, a few miles NW of the reserve.|
|7:57 PM and the smoke plume still moving away from us.|
|Navarretia mellita, the subject of one of my experiments, which was going along swimmingly before I left.|
Doing small-scale insect-plant interactions, I do my experiments on a plant-scale - manipulating traits of one plant, and I mostly work on annuals and all on a yearly basis (which means I can't do a pre-/post-fire comparison). I do many experiments each season - this year I was running 7 at the time of the fire - all in the northern and western parts of the reserve, where the fire was most intense. So my heart was racing the whole trip back, when I was allowed in on Thursday (the 6th - over a week after evacuation). I dropped some refrigerated stuff off and quickly hurried out to my sites...
|This is the wet meadow where my recently published experiment took place and where I had another experiment going this year.|
|I should have bought the pin flags rated for raging-wildfire temperatures. Next time.|
|Based on its location (and most of my landmark shrubs were gone), I think this was control #50. It formerly was under a manzanita. I found it in the middle of a large, barren field.|
|My site is on the middle hump in the mid-ground. You can see the sparse vegetation on those serpentine barrens compared to the field of Avena in the non-serpentine areas.|
|It burned the spines right off the thistle flowers. And it looked like most hadn't seeded... hooray!|
|Like the wicked witch of the west when confronted with water, milkweeds (this is Asclepias eriocarpa) apparently just melt in the face of fire.|
|The patchiness of the fire on a microscale was crazy. Here a small patch of seeding Mimulus nudatus (a rare California endemic found only in serpentine soils in a small part of the northern coast range) stands amidst a scorched landscape.|
|Big flags, little tiny plants.|
|Its hard to see in this picture, but pretty much every glandular trichome on the plant had dust stuck to it, rendering it pretty much completely unsticky.|
|A dead deer in the pond that the manzanitas were next to. I don't know for sure that this was fire related, but it seems likely as the chaparral up to this pond on three sides was burned completely for hundreds and hundreds of meters.|
|Other folks lost experiments as well. This was a bird exclosure, under which was a chamise that had been monitored for years.|
|Walking through dense manzanita chaparral is miserable. Walking through the same area now is quite easy.|
|Though it makes you quite dirty. This was after only about 10 minutes. After an afternoon of hiking around, I looked like a coal miner.|
|A nice clean, fresh, funnel web on top of blackened soil.|
|A web with lots of entrapped ash. I think it is a theridiid, but I didn't look too closely. All the webs were covered like this.|
Its been a really interesting time to look at the natural history of this area. The next few years, while I continue my phd, will also be an interesting time of watching fire-following plants, resprouters and who knows what else.
|The fire opened up previously hidden scenes from dense chaparral, like this midden. I guess this was from when there was a nearby shale quarry operating, but I'm not sure. Those beer cans look old...|
I wrote most of this the night of 8/8/15. About 4 PM today (8/9/15), another call came on the radio about a smoke plume. I hurried outside and shit... another BIG fire, within a couple miles, this time SW of the station. This one has been termed the Jerusalem fire. I hurried and collected some seeds for a friend and reconned some badly dozered sections in the SE portion of the reserve.
|Jerusalem fire, ~4:30 PM, 8/9/15. If the twittosphere is to be believed, those two plumes are from two separate arson fires.|
|These dozer lines are ridiculous. There are at least 4 (and a road) between this particular one and anywhere the Rocky fire actually burned. They tore the shit out of some really nice oak woodland habitat and compacted soil, etc.|
|Fire haze does produce extremely beautiful light.|
|This charred live oak (?) leaf was one of many which rained down during my hike... the fire was 3-5 miles away at this point.|
|Like ecologists, firefighters seem to like to put flagging tape on anything interesting. Here on abandoned machinery. Its also on gates, fences, various poles, etc.|
|A constant part of the wildlife now, these big birds are really thirsty, sometimes drinking 3,000 gallons every few minutes. I'm getting better at my identification of these. I think this is a Boeing 234 "Chinook", but these two rotor helicopters seem almost as confusing as empid flycatchers... field guide.here.|
|The pond this CH-47 just refilled from is part of the complex where the field component of this paper took place.|
I did learn some field season lessons, as well.
Things I will do differently next summer:
1) Space my experiments out farther! The farther apart they are, the more likely a fire line will go between them in case something like this happens again.
2) Put them a little farther back from roads (this also would protect against accidental drive-overs).
3) Put them in a matrix of previously burned areas. Its hard to reburn the same areas two years in a row (though the Wragg fire managed that this year in Yolo/Solano counties!). That will allow a little extra safety.
And finally - while I lost some work (a couple months on a couple projects), I'll certainly be able to repeat those next year and I'll get a couple completed experiments from the seaon. Thankfully, I didn't lose my house, my pets, my vehicles or my livelihood - others did.