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Sonoma Firestorm, Part 3, Hiking Arrowhead Mountain

Sonoma Firestorm, Part 3, Hiking Arrowhead Mountain

In my final post on the 2017 Sonoma Firestorm, (Part 3) come along as we hike through Arrowhead Mountain, the southernmost flank of the Mayacamas Mountains that splits Napa and Sonoma Counties.

The hike started at the base of Arrowhead mountain and climbed up to +/-750 feet elevation near the Sonoma/Napa County line, just above local wineries Gundlach Bundschu, Scribe, and Nicholson Ranch. Along the way, we discovered proof of nature’s power as plants and animals of all varieties are making a comeback.

Above is the ‘normal’ view, pre-October 2017 firestorm, looking south into San Pablo Bay.

And this would be the typical view of native oaks, shrubs, grasses and deer trails.

And this is what we found on January 16th, 2018, at about 700 feet of elevation, also looking south to San Pablo Bay.

And close up view of burned oak and manzanita.

We were lead by the Sonoma Ecology Center ‘Restoration Program Manager’ Mark Newhouser

And Sonoma Ecology Center “Biologist and Research Program Director” Caitlin Cornwall

And Bilingual Educator and ‘master of gate locks’ Alana Fichman

It’s alive! This little fella was crossing the road. It is a California Newt (Taricha Torosa). Glands in the skin release a neurotoxin hundreds of times more potent than cyanide (by volume) which in the case of a newt is minute (mynewt, get it?) Free bottle of red wine to the first reader to alert me that you read this joke, reply to this post please…

Pieces of rock chunked away by the roaring heat of the firestorm.

…with bits exploded off the surface of the Rhyolitic outcroppings.

Now let’s explore the plants enjoying a recovery.

This is Chemise (Adenostoma fasciculatum) first burned in the fire, and then cut by firefighters along the roadway, now making a fast recovery.

And this is what Chemise should look like in a few short months.

Here is a young Madrone pushing new growth before the burned leaves have even fallen away, very unusual for January.

Same for this live oak, rapidly pushing new growth high up on the tree. This is why everyone is cautioned not to be too quick about cutting down seemingly dead trees. Many of our native species are built to absorb some fire and push new growth.

This is Fremont Lily (Zigadenus fremontii) making a fast comeback.

And what it will look like come April!

This is ‘bear grass’ (Xerophyllum tenax) coming back in a location that must have burned very hot given the absolute torching of the manzanita and rocks.

We should find it in this gorgeous flowering stage in just a few short months.

That fried manzanita from a different view.

And what to expect after recovery.

And last, the absolute dreaded and very invasive Broom – Scotch, Portuguese, and French (V. Cytisus), they quickly crowd out the natives, live only 7 to 8 years, and then present a huge hazard, burning very fast and hot.

And despite its ability to spread quickly drowning out all the natives, it is pretty on roadsides and hills, and are therefore presumed by some to be OK.

Want to learn more:

Link to Sonoma Ecology Center

Link to the next SEC hike

Link to topo map of Arrowhead Mountain, Sonoma

Link to Sonoma County Recovery web site

The author, Ken Wornick, of Hydeout Sonoma Consulting

Link to Hydeout Sonoma

Sonoma Firestorm – Part 2 – Analysis, Recovery, Celebration

Sonoma Firestorm – Part 2 – Analysis, Recovery, Celebration

With mother nature, life always follows death…

In my previous blog, you saw images of the terrible firestorm and resulting destruction in Sonoma.

In “Sonoma Firestorm – Part 2” we visit a fire-damaged vineyard near Kenwood springing back to life just one month later. And meet in the Sonoma town square to thank first responders.

But first, a reminder of where we came from just one month ago…

The continuing personal impact on some is hard to measure. These photos are from the Warm Springs Road area, close to many of my client vineyards…

Many vineyards were either spared from from the fire, or actually blocked the fires from advancing – by cutting off the fuel supply. However, some vineyards did burn, and here we see a vineyard a few days after being burned during the firestorm. Note that all of the ground cover and much of the leaf canopy is either burned or charred.

And the first few feet of vine trunk is quite scorched…

This fire also destroyed all of the drip irrigation system, including riser pipes, hoses, and drip emitters, leaving dripping plastic residue on the ground in its wake…

And destroyed every drip emitter…

And some very large trees burned and fell into the vineyard, including this epic California Bay Laurel…

We enlisted the help of the several agencies to help us assess the damage. The Sonoma Resource Conservation District helped us develop an erosion control recovery plan. Below, Project Manager Justin Bidell and Resource Planner Anya Starovoytov walk the damaged site collecting data, taking pictures, and advising on recovery plans and funding sources…

Justin and Anya point out that the fire even chased into plastic drainage culverts, burning underneath several access roads…

And looking at this close-up image of a charred grapevine trunk, you might think that this vineyard would be lost and need to be replanted…

But dig down to check the condition of the vine roots and we find in most cases no damage at all…

Amazingly, just one month later, we find everything is roaring back to life!…

And rain brings welcome moisture and renewed growth…

And the cover crop in between the vine rows explodes back to life, and the grapevines respond accordingly, soaking up moisture, swelling buds, and going into dormancy…

And the return of power at the winery allows us to get back to work. In this photo, wine that had been resting in stainless tanks has been moved into oak barrels where it will rest in the caves for the winter…

And one month later, although many friends are homeless, or know someone who lost a home, the vineyards and wineries and the town of Sonoma are bouncing back to life. And we can still find small things for which we can all be grateful…

The town of Sonoma celebrated on Saturday night, November 19th, with a Sonoma Town Hall holiday lighting ceremony, awards and standing ovations to the first responders, great music, and this wonderful tribute from Amy Miller, Artistic Director of Transcendence Theatre Company:

Video: Sonoma Square and Amy Miller from Transcendance Theatrer

Other links on this topic:

Ways to support those who need help

Did vineyards help save wine country?

A look at 22 wineries that sustained damage

Search and Rescue teams news

Tourists encouraged to come back!