California’s 2020 Fire Season was the largest on record, with 4,177,855 total acres burned. In the East Bay, the SCU Lightning Complex Fire, started by lightning in August, included fires in five regional parks – Mission Peak, Morgan Territory, Ohlone Wilderness, Round Valley, and Sunol Wilderness – and burned 396,624 total acres.
Luckily, the SCU fire was “best case” scenario in terms of intensity, which allowed wildlife time to burrow or escape to safer areas and seedlings to survive for future regrowth. That is not to say that there weren’t spots of high-intensity fire where vegetation was completely burned and wildlife impacted.
Grazing and properly managed fire roads likely reduced the intensity of the SCU fire in many areas. In many cases, the fire was seen burning itself out at maintained fire roads and slowing down in grazed areas, giving wildlife time to seek shelter and firefighters a fighting chance.
Grasslands, depending on final winter rain totals, are anticipated to produce an exceptional native wildflower bloom. Animals should also be abundant as wildlife has started branching out after finding refuge in habitat islands not affected by the fires. Some plants require fire or smoke to germinate – these plants are called “fire followers” and are associated with chaparral. They only bloom for a short time, then disappear until the next fire. District vegetation staff will be surveying for and recording these species in 2021.
The Park District has also established a Post Fire Monitoring Task Force within its Stewardship Department to track the recovery of vegetation and wildlife, and to help coordinate management needs for the burned areas. There are many protected species in the area, such as Golden Eagles which nest high up in the trees. It is unknown whether they will re-nest in the area if the fire destroyed their original nests.
Dave Mason, Public Information Supervisor