Something I saw near my mother's place in El Cajon California got me thinking of the poor excuse for leadership the average person has when it comes to land management and fire safety. I was driving down Pepper Drive and noticed this house on a hill where the home owner had stripped bare the top acreage of all coastal sage scrub, which honestly is not very tall as far as most chaparral plant communities. In it's place was thick tall nonnative grasses like European Wild Oats, Mustard, and various other foxtail grasses. The situation is actually worse now than formerly. Now if a fire occurs, them home owner has mere seconds to escape as opposed to minutes in the slower burning chaparral. I once saw a 500 foot hillside in Santee California go up in the most rapidly moving flames in 10 seconds than I had ever seen before. Anyone who has knowledge of northern Santee knows that most all the hillsides there are thick dense grasslands created a century ago by overgrazing by excessive Cattle ranching. It was 1971 and I had climbed Rattlesnake Mountain to watch it that evening. I had a high school acquaintance who was a rookie firefighting trainee who was present and I inquired of him about the explosion of flames on that huge hillside. He said they knew ahead of time what was going to happened and pulled everyone away from that fire line to let the fire run it's course up the slope. I was reminded of this incident from a posted article by Rick Halsey of the Chaparral Institute who was interviewed on the subject of fire and the presently ongoing Powerhouse Fire near L.A. which had much misleading terminology demonizing Chaparral. Yet it did acknowledge some good points.
"Elsewhere on the fire line, crews have come across less thick but quick-burning grasses. The grass burns even faster than the chaparral, making it more dangerous for firefighters."At the very least, this article did acknowledge the far deadlier potential of grasses and other non-native weedy invasives in creating far more potential for disaster and danger to firefighters. But back to that failed leadership problem. The article references so-called experts who clearly are not an expert in exactly how the Chaparral Plant Community functions, and who spend more time collecting Brownie Points by demonizing these plants than actually offering intelligent viable solutions. Take this well known notorious political sucking up example here:
"Richard Minnich, a geography professor at UC Riverside, has long argued that aggressive fire suppression for small wildfires has created large swaths of land primed to combust because they haven't burned in many years. The result, he argues, is larger and faster moving fires that don't run into enough fire breaks that previous blazes can create."Demonizing the Chaparral Plant Community apparently is what everyone wants to hear. Hence with such poor examples of leadership referenced above, you have gullible home owners like the example below who hang on to every word and become incapable of thinking logically for themselves and actually doing their own homework on exactly how Nature actually works.
Well, here is the scene that got me thinking about the propaganda that the average person buys into from the interviewed experts when it comes to land management. Clearly the fire potential here on this hilltop property has been very much accelerated by the improper brush removal and the allowing of non-native invasive weeds to move on in. The home owner now has only seconds as opposed to minutes to escape a fire under the ideal conditions. But let us look further at the irresponsible practices in the Forestry which actually mirror this disaster waiting to happen.When my wife and I came out in 2011, we drove up Hwy 74 to visit Idyllwild. along the way I noticed what clearly was a horrible decision making as far as land management and fire safety. I'm assuming it was the U.S. Forest Service, but it may have well been Cal-Fire. At certain intervals along the Hwy 74, they were clear cutting with chain saw all chaparral plants along both sides of the highway. I suppose this was a proposed fire prevention solution as a result of the Baldy Mountain Fire which had it's start along Hwy 74 just before the South Fork San Jacinto hiking trail turnout almost a decade ago. I imagine they saw the potential if the fire had started far below in lower elevation along Hwy 74 which would have taken a fire directly towards Mountain Center or even Idyllwild.. Take a look at the far more dangerous situation they have created which is simply just waiting to happen.
When we came through in 2011, the ground was bare white decomposed granite soils with several brush piles down next to the road way waiting to be hauled of to a landfill. And while this chaparral has grown back some what, it has done so slowly as a result of low rainfall the past couple of years here. However, notice the grasses have had no problem finding their way where they never once existed previously. Next are some closer views.
I know what their thinking was here in view or the old Baldy Mountain Fire over a decade ago. They most likely assumed someone threw a cigarette out their Car window and started that fire. And yet, with these irresponsible actions here in allowing dry grasses and other non-natives to infiltrate this hillside, they have almost guaranteed that some cigarette will ignite a potentially deadly fire. The Chaparral along here was always beautiful. I mentioned this to friends I took to the South Fork hike to investigate the stream diversion. I said, "Keep a lookout for the Chaparral Currant which should be in bloom along the roadway here". But then there was no Chaparral Currant any longer. It had all been removed. I knew it was there from years of commuting up and down that mountain, but now that was history. Instead there are Foxtail Grasses and European Wild Oats, both of which burn like gasoline. At least under the dander of Chaparral it would never have ignited with a mere cigarette. Of course you can never say never, but chances of fire potential have now increased 90%. The other danger is the rapid burn which would race up these slopes will not allow firefighters a chance to get a head start fire line around these areas. At least if chaparral did start fire, it would start out with white smoke long before roaring fire was created. This would have allowed precious minutes to get a handle on the thing. One year in the 1980s, some idiot did try to start an arson fire at this exact location and someone had enough time to stop at Mountain Center and use a Payphone (Mobile Phones weren't invented yet) and alert Fire Stations who 30 minutes later found the same idiot trying to ignite the chaparral only to create lots of white smoke.
Fortunately, the article referenced above did conclude with an informative and corrective reference from California Chaparral Institute Biologist Richard Halsey:
But other scientists point out that some of the most catastrophic wildfires in the history of Southern California happened in places that had seen large fires just a few years before.
Those scientists argue that wind-driven fires go through young chaparral and old chaparral alike.
Rick Halsey, founder and president of the California Chaparral Institute in San Diego, said the age of a chaparral "is not really a significant issue when it comes to fire spread and fire size."
The biggest problem that will not be admitted is that the leadership is not so much trying to manage land as they are people. How does one go about managing the irresponsible behavior of human beings ? How to you prevent Psychos from deliberately setting wildfires ? How do you prevent irresponsible dumb choices like a guy who performs welding work on his horse trailer next to Foxtails ? How do you stop an idiot from throwing his cigarette out the Car window ? The answer to all of those questions is, you don't, because you can't. They already know it's going to happen anyway, so the strategy has always been lets remove as much of the fuel potential as possible because people cannot and will not change their behavior. This is why much of the so-called fire history cannot be compared with today in regards to the way Nature worked in the past. There is no comparison to the historical past when you try to compare it with modern day human idiocy. More later on the ongoing program of vegetation removal in Garner Valley to save those Park-like setting trees and future plans for stripping areas around Anza that is already on the books."Intense, periodic wildfires are common in chaparral areas. But simply letting them burn is not the answer", Halsey said. "Areas that have burned frequently tend to be overrun by invasive weeds and grass, which he said is more flammable than old chaparral."