In California, where we get little rain between April and October, wildfire is all too common. On Saturday a California Native Plant Society (CNPS) group hiked in the hills south of San Jose, California, to look at a 40-acre area that burned in July 2013. To document nature’s renewal after the fire, we photographed the burn area before the rains, and we’ll return in the winter and spring to see the changes after the rain, to see how well the plants recover.
This relief map, a screenshot from Lightroom 5, shows the area where we hiked. My camera has a built-in GPS. The numbers indicate how many photos I took in that spot, but I’ll use the numbers to show where the photos were taken. The burn area started at the yellow marker, number 18. The brown lines on the relief map indicate equal elevation, so we can see that the hike started at the bottom of the hill.
The fire was within the Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve. 2013 has been very dry — it’s rained only 2″ in 2013 and 3/4″ of rain since the July fire.
Marker 18 shows the bottom corner of the burn. The fire burned the grassland up the hill to the oak trees at the top.
This charred clump of fescue, a cool-season grass, is sprouting new shoots in the fall.
We hiked west to marker 15 and then hiked north up the hill to the trees.
The white flowers in the foreground are hemizonia congesta, hayfield tarweed, a California native plant. The tarweed in the photo below was just outside the burn area.
Here’s a closer view of the half-burnt oak, marker 12. Note that the leaves facing the hillside are brown while the leaves facing away form the hillside are still green.
This epilobium canum (California fuschia) is growing in the ravine just below the oak tree. A California native plant, it blooms in the summer. These fuschias are more healthy than the ones at home that we water every two weeks! Perhaps there was considerable water runoff into the ravine from fire fighting.
A patch of asclepias fascicularis, narrowleaf milkweed, is growing on the other side of the ravine from the oak tree. The narrowleaf milkweed is the sole food source of the monarch butterfly.
We hiked back down the hill and then around the hill to a gate on the ridgeline at the top of the burn, marker 11. The hillside was too steep for the group to hike directly up the hill.
This quercus agrifolia, coast live oak, located at the gate, lost its leaves in the fire, but a small green shoot has emerged just below the cut. Also a California native plant, the coast live oak is evergreen. It’s dormant in the summer, which helps it survive the dry California summer.
From this oak, the half-burnt oak is down the bare hillside in the bottom left.
We hiked out to marker 10 to see the burn area from the top of the ridge. Look at the yellow grassland and the green oak woodland to imagine how the burn area looked before the fire.
We’ll return in January after the plants get some rain.