After the Wildfire, +4 months

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.

Rancho Canada del Oro map
Rancho Canada del Oro map

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.

Rancho Canada del Oro burn area
Rancho Canada del Oro burn area

This charred clump of fescue, a cool-season grass, is sprouting new shoots in the fall.

fescue shoots after the burn
fescue shoots after the burn

We hiked west to marker 15 and then hiked north up the hill to the trees.

up the draw to half-burnt oak
up the draw to half-burnt oak

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.

hemizonia congesta
hemizonia congesta

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.

half-burnt oak
half-burnt oak

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.

epilobium canum
epilobium canum

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.

asclepias fascicularis
asclepias fascicularis

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.

burnt coast live oak with shoot
burnt coast live oak with shoot

From this oak, the half-burnt oak is down the bare hillside in the bottom left.

half-burnt oak from ridgetop
half-burnt oak from ridgetop

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.

looking at the burn area
looking at the burn area

We’ll return in January after the plants get some rain.

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Published by

charley280

I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

5 thoughts on “After the Wildfire, +4 months”

  1. This hike was in a preserve where going off-trail is normally prohibited. Please help protect the preserve by staying on the trails unless you are part of a docent-led hike like this one. CNPS, in cooperation with the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority, will be leading at least two more public hikes this winter and spring to observe the recovery of this area. We hope to see you then. Learn more about OSA properties at http://www.openspaceauthority.org/.

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