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 Parker, Deputy 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:
These speakers offered their experiences, findings, and challenges regarding the topics below. Check out their presentations to see what they shared:
- Victoria Schlesinger, Moderator, Editor-in-Chief, Bay Nature
- Tom Robinson, Director of Conservation, Science, and Innovation, Bay Area Open Space Council – 09:15–19:20
- Set geographic and historical context of affected lands.
Northern California Fires – Geographic Context & Lands Affected – Tom Robinson
- David Shew, Staff Chief: Planning & Risk Analysis, Office of the State Fire Marshal, Cal Fire – 20:54-34:14
- State perspective. Fire planning and outlook, how fires re-informed Cal Fire’s emergency response protocols.
- During Q&A – Creating more ember-resistant structures in addition to examining land use issues. Engaging with architectural groups looking to plug into the reconstruction efforts.
- Sasha Berleman, Fire Ecologist, Audubon Canyon Ranch – 34:38-42:02
- Audubon Canyon Ranch experience. Fire ecology, effects of Audubon Canyon Ranch prescribed burns.
- How Native Americans used fire to manage lands, etc.
- Bill Keene (and Sheri Emerson who could not attend), General Manager & Stewardship Program Manager, Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District (SCAPOSD) – 42:30-54:20
- SCAPOSD experience. County response and coordination.
- During Q&A – Challenges and opportunities around rebuilding efforts. Engaging with insurance companies and other entities to incentivize building out of harm’s way.
- Crystal Simons, Conservation Easement Program Manager, Sonoma Land Trust – 54:50-01:05:37
- Sonoma Land Trust experience. On-the-ground stewardship perspective on response efforts.
- Compassionate outreach to landowners, community members, and staff. Working with partners on outreach, support, and knowledge sharing. Monitoring easement properties, assessing loss.
- Sonoma County Region Fire History 1939 to 2017 – an interactive animated map showing prior fires in and around Sonoma County over the past eight decades.
- Mike Palladini, Stewardship Program Manager, Land Trust of Napa County – 01:06:28-01:14:05
- Land Trust of Napa County experience. Impacts to preserves, properties, and conservation easements.
- Safety measures before opening opening preserves.
- Fire-adapted native plant and wildlife recovery already seen on Land Trust of Napa County lands.
- Robert Doyle, General Manager, East Bay Regional Park District – 01:14:43-01:24:23
- Lessons learned from Oakland Hills/Tunnel Fire (now considered the second most destructive fire in California history) and how they re-shaped East Bay Regional Park District fire department’s procedures.
- Finding common ground regardless of differences and specific interests.
- Importance of space for Cal Fire first responders to get in and out safely and cell towers for communication.
- Melanie Parker, Deputy Director, Sonoma County Regional Parks – 01:24:42-01:14:05
- Sonoma County Regional Parks experience. How parks kept fires from spreading into more residential areas.
- Personal account of narrowly escaping fire with family. Past experiences with fire in the Northern Rockies. Effects of suppression for two human generations and incentives back then to work together and find common ground.
- Emergency response mode continues. Triage – Evacuation, then partnering with Cal Fire, then assessing trees about to fall and erosion.
- Cyndy Shafer, Natural Resource Program Manager, California State Parks – Bay Area District – 01:32:53-01:40:42
- State Parks response. Fire is a matter of when, not if.
- Many layers of response and evacuation. Staff trained as firefighters and resource advisors that go out on line with Cal Fire and work with them on suppression efforts and incident command.
- California State Parks manages for biodiversity and natural processes. For fire recovery they allow nature to take it course, rather than doing seeding or planting.
- Lisa Micheli, President and CEO, Pepperwood Foundation – 01:41:03-01:48:29
- Pepperwood experience. Pre and post fire monitoring.
- Scientific questions about fire: What drove fire behavior and intensity? Did pre-fire treatments work? How will watersheds and grasslands respond? What are the effects on plants and wildlife? Will look at temperature measurements, wildfire cameras, long-term plots, installed sensors, remote sensing (LiDAR), etc.
- During Q&A: Local governments make our decisions about our water and our land. It’s important to get involved in local governmental processes to make our voices heard and to be a part of the broader conversation as the rebuilding and recovery continues.
- Q&A –01:50:15-02:26:42
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: