October 3,1995. This is when it all started. An illegal campfire near Mt. Vision ignited a wildfire above Inverness, a town outside the boundaries of Point Reyes National Seashore. Driven by 40-50 mph winds through steep terrain and heavy timber, the fire spread rapidly, destroying 45 homes and structures. By midnight the fire had burned 920 acres. Only 24 hours later, the fire had expanded to consume 8,880 acres - 90% burning inside the national seashore boundaries. More about what happened (fire chronology).
Environmental Contributing Factors
Several factors contributed to the severity of the burn. Point Reyes National Seashore has a Mediterranean climate consisting of a cool damp winter, a spring consisting of sunny windy cool weather, a summer season of no rain but an unpredictable coastal fog influence and a dry hot fall. In most years, persistent fog keeps fire danger moderate through July and August when fire danger is usually the highest in the western United States. The fog pattern changes in mid-September and fuel moisture drops steadily. The period of September 1 through October 31 can be considered the most critical time of fire danger for the Seashore.
Most of the area had not previously burned in 50 to 100 years and high winds drove the fires to a level of ferocity that couldn't safely be suppressed.
What is the Effect on the Seashore?
Roughly 14% of Point Reyes National Seashore wilderness was burned. The burn area is not visible from the northern district of the park. Until the hazards in the fire areas, such as danger from falling trees and limbs, areas of hot smoldering material, trails damaged by heavy fire fighting equipment and loss of some bridges and numerous trail signs can be fully assessed and mitigated, all roads and trails into the area are closed to the public.
The national, multi-disciplinary Burn Area Emergency Rehabilitation (BAER) team is assessing the fire damage to the resources. They are evaluating the watershed including drainages, culverts, slopes, the extent of vegetation loss; inventorying utility and structure damage; determining the rehabilitation needed to mitigate fire line construction damage; cataloging fire effect on cultural resources; and assessing the influence of fire on plants and animals, including threatened and endangered species.
Point Reyes National Seashore is home to diverse plant communities, most of which have evolved over the millennia in response to periodic fire. The ecology has been affected more recently by the absence of fire through fire suppression efforts.
Coastal scrub rejuvenates well after a fire. Vigorous resprouting is generally noticeable with in a few months after a fire. An area by Limantour beach which burned earlier this summer has resprouted very well already. Spectacular displays of spring wildflowers generally occur in chaparral the year following a burn.
Bishop pine stands, commonly found along the Inverness Ridge at the Seashore, have a closed-cone which requires heat to melt the resin in the cones to release seeds. Pines also require bare mineral soil and plenty of sunlight for their seedlings to survive - exactly the conditions that prevail after a fire. Without fires or when fires are suppressed, overpopulation occurs leaving sick and dying trees and a depleted soil. Burned Bishop pine return nutrient rich nitrogen to the soil.
Douglas fir have a thick bark which offers signifi cant protection. The immature trees, however, often do not survive a fire. In Douglas fir forest, Madrones, bay laurels and live oak often ace the first to resprout, having a competitive advantage over the Douglas fir. Within a couple of decades after the development of a brushy ground cover which protects the young fir seedlings, however, the Douglas fir will tend to dominate the forest again.
Fire is not always devastating to wildlife. Some have died, many have escaped, and competition for adequate food sources currently exists. Of greater importance is the preservation of the species. Fire plays a role in creating healthy, natural habitats for wildlife populations. Fire tends to burn in an uneven patchy fashion. This creates a mosaic of diverse areas for wildlife -low green for age in recent burns, sheltering stands of brush and trees in unburned areas and standing dead trees that provide nesting cavities and insects for food.
The Seashore has suffered great loss, but it is not devastated. The cycle of life continues and regeneration will be evident in the long term.
To Help: To help with the rehabilitation efforts from the Vision Fire, your donations can be mailed the Point Reyes National Seashore Association at Point Reyes National Seashore, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956. For more information, please contact John Dell'Osso at (415) 663-8522.
Last updated: February 28, 2015