Tag Archives: fire danger

Understanding Wildfire in the Chaparral of Southern California


Toyon, or California Holly (Heteromeles arbutifolia) re-sprouts following a fire.

Whether naturally ignited or caused by man, fires are an inevitable part of life in Southern California. California’s history is dotted with wildfires, many severe and engulfing large tracts of the landscape. The 2009 Santa Barbara Fire, October 2007 wildfires, Cedar Fire of 2003, and 1993 Malibu Fire, among others, are recent memories of particularly devastating events. Undoubtedly, more wildfires will occur in the future.

As with Earthquakes, the question is not if the next wildfire will occur, but when. Records indicate that infrequent wildfires are a natural part of the ecology of the region we live in, although the interval between fires has shortened in recent times. In the Chaparral biome, the scrubland community that encompasses much of the Coast Ranges and foothills of several interior mountain ranges, the average fire interval is thirty to forty years. In certain areas the typical interval between fires can drop as low as ten to fifteen years, and span up to one hundred years in others. It has been estimated that the fire regime was much less frequent before human settlement: between thirty and one hundred fifty years. It has only been within the past century that the interval has shortened dramatically.

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