I recall as a little girl, my father driving the car through forested Allegheny Mountains on old, out-of-the-way firebreak roads. My mother questioned the wisdom of taking such mountaintop detours but I know she enjoyed the adventure as much as the rest of us. Crisscrossing the ridges, we crept along the brink overseeing vast valleys until the tracks grew too narrow to pass. Both fascinated and terrified, I clung to the edge of the open window and gazed down the steep inclines through the lush green treetops. Oak leaf mold, pine needles, moist soil and a thousand varieties of plants tantalized my nose as the gaping canyons threatened to swallow the car. Daddy knew those firebreak roads like the back of his hand. He had worked clearing them for payment of fifty cents a day (plus room and board at the camps) as a member of the CCC's (Civil Conservation Corps) in the post-depression era. He explained how summer dryness, human carelessness, or the whims of Mother Nature made the firebreak roads necessary. Not too long ago, I wondered if there were sufficient firebreaks being created today. Unfortunately, one of the biggest forest fires we had this summer was on acres and acres of land that had not been cleared in over sixty years.
As an adult, while living in the tree populated hills of Aptos in 1981, I recall one hot, dry evening a neighbor's very large, faulty propane tank exploded, shooting flames fifty feet to the tops of the Eucalyptus grove. Instantly, I grabbed my 2 year old son out of bed, ran to the edge of a six foot fence, lifted him over, and gently dropped him upright. Thank heavens he was wearing his red foot ‘jamas. Then, I vaulted over as the increasing roar of the flames urged me to fly. Anyone who knows me, is aware I do not have the physique of an athlete. I landed hard, and broke my ankle but the adrenaline kept me from realizing it until the next day, when I discovered I couldn’t walk.
Running while the flames screamed through the trees, I carried my son through the neighboring pasture, and down to the highway. I sat beside the road as the fire department arrived to put out the fire before the hillside became engulfed. That hair-raising event is stamped indelibly on my mind.
The next day we surveyed the burned trees, and I thought how sad that they were gone. Foolish me. What did I know? They were not as destroyed as they appeared. And now, years later, the average person would not recognize these trees as having survived. They have grown back strong as before. Research has shown that no matter how singed the trees, as long as the root system, and trunk are reasonably uninjured, they are likely to recover healthy again, in time.
This summer, south of me, what began as a "Controlled Burn" combined with the thick, desiccated undergrowth, high temperatures, and brisk winds quickly consumed acreage becoming a wildfire which engulfed and incinerated acres of trees, coastal scrub, and grasses. No longer a “controlled burn” this transformed much of the terrain that lasted several days. From the beginning, with expert assistance the fire was contained before it spread too far.
At the same time, Southern California's wildly unmanageable firestorms were not as easily controlled. I watched the news, distractedly wondering if all life in the Los Angeles Basin would be incinerated. Literally, full neighborhoods disappeared. Folks have suffered, most all have survived and are rebuilding their homes.
But, still I’m wondering, what plants, insects, birds, and other wildlife were destroyed in the process? How well will the ecosystem recover? I once read a science fiction book entitled Earth Abides by George Rippy Stewart which extolled the virtues of Mother Nature's ability to survive, and thrive long after the human race had annihilated itself. (Some people survived too) In opposition to those who are proponents of the "we will take her with us" group, I am rooting for Mom.
Posted by Elizabeth Munroz