The Open Space Council Blog


Reflecting on the Northern California Wildfires at the November Gathering

November 24, 2017


“It’s one of those moments you probably remember the place you were sitting, or lying, or what device you had in your hand when you realized that this was happening. For the folks up in north county, we’re still reliving that moment by moment and it’s pretty profound. There’s a lot of healing to be done.”
~ Crystal Simons, Conservation Easement Program Manager, Sonoma Land Trust (paraphrased)

 “What we used to refer to as our fire season is now approximately 70-75 days longer than it was only 40 years ago.” “The rates of expansion and the amount of heat being put off by these fires completely left the charts that we have. We’ve never recorded anything quite like this before.”
~ Dave Shew, Staff Chief: Planning & Risk Analysis, Office of the State Fire Marshal, Cal Fire (paraphrased)

 “I’ve seen a lot of wildfire but have never been surrounded by it.” “This is a human tragedy of epic proportions in a fire-adapted landscape.”
~ Melanie ParkerDeputy Director, Sonoma County Regional Parks (paraphrased)

“For State Parks [wildfire is] a matter of when, not if.”
~ Cyndy Shafer, Natural Resource Program Manager, California State Parks – Bay Area District


These four quotes represent just a fraction of what the ten wildfire speakers shared at the recent Bay Area Open Space Council Gathering on Thursday, November 16, 2017. It was a packed house at the David Brower Center, filled with 180 Bay Area residents who traveled from across the region to listen and learn from the speakers who reflected on the causes and consequences of the Northern California wildfires that ignited the evening of October 8. Each offered a unique and personal account of what they’ve experienced, how they’ve responded, what they’ve learned and continue to study, and their process moving forward to steward, rebuild, and restore their lives, communities, and lands.

The Gathering touched on several dimensions of the wildfires, ranging from stories of survival and recovery to implications for how we manage the land going forward. Speakers shared their own stories – Melanie Parker escaped the firestorm after being woken by her son in the middle of the night – and their dogged attempts to reach out to friends, family, and colleagues as the reality of the fires set in. We also leaned into the discussion of natural resource management and land use planning in the context of our fire-adapted ecology. We heard about the coordinated restoration efforts already underway and embraced the fact that our open spaces served as natural buffers, providing emergency access and protecting our homes and communities from an even harsher fate.


Audio Recording Now Available – Listen & Share

In an effort to share this event with those who were unable to attend, here is an audio recording we took during the Gathering. The quality is imperfect, but due to the timeliness of the event topic and number of people on the waitlist for this sold out event, we wanted to share what was said with anyone who’d like to hear the discussion. We hope this helps you in your own work and healing process. The timestamps that mark the beginning and end of each speaker’s presentation are listed below:

Speaker Presentations

These speakers offered their experiences, findings, and challenges regarding the topics below. Check out their presentations to see what they shared:


Northern California Fires – Geographic Context & Lands Affected – Tom Robinson



North Bay Wildfires, October 8, 2017: An Overview | What’s Next? – Dave Shew



Audubon Canyon Ranch – Photos of Affected Lands – Sasha Berleman



Bill Keene & Sheri Emerson – SCAPOSD Response



Sonoma Land Trust – Affected Lands – Photos and Links – Crystal Simon







California State Parks – Impacts of Northern California Fires – Cyndy Shafer



Key Science Questions in the Wake of the Flames – Lisa Micheli


Pepperwood Preserve – Pre, During, and Post-Fire Images



Connect with the Speakers

Here’s the event agenda including each speaker’s contact information:



Here’s a glimpse into what the day looked like. For more photos, check out our Flickr album:






The Conversation Online

…and what attendees were saying about #OSCFires on Twitter:


This event is possible with the generous support of the following sponsors: