Prescribed Burn Reduces Forest Fire Risk at Point San Luis Lighthouse, Improves Ecosystem | John Lindsey | Local News

The threat of wildfires weighed heavily on the keepers of Point San Luis Lighthouse – a voluntary, non-profit organization tasked with restoring and maintaining the historic lighthouse built in 1890 – and here’s why.

Forest fires were becoming a greater risk for the lighthouse, especially taking into account climate change with progressively warmer temperatures and more severe droughts. In other words, if the vegetation / understory fuels are allowed to accumulate over the years, they will naturally burn much hotter and are more difficult if not impossible to control, unlike prescribed burns. The intense heat of these uncontrollable forest fires can severely damage or kill countless trees.

The last time the San Luis Ridge near the lighthouse burned was in 1978. During this wildfire, retired Pacific, Gas & Electric Co. marine biologist Sally Krenn told me about it. said firefighting helicopters scooped seawater into 300-gallon buckets and threw it on the fire. .

The problem was that there were a large number of baitfish, mainly anchovies, in San Luis Bay at the time. As you may have guessed, a lot of these silvery fish have been found on San Luis Ridge. A marauding band of local raccoons took full advantage of the scarcity.

The prescribed burn of the San Luis Ridge near the lighthouse had been planned for 15 years, but the fuel moisture levels, the availability of firefighters and equipment, and the weather conditions were never satisfactory to carry it out.

On November 12, all the elements came together: gentle to moderate winds (8-18 mph) from Santa Lucia (northeast / offshore) that would drive the plume of smoke out to sea; satisfactory vegetation fuel moisture levels that would allow vegetation to burn, but not too low to be difficult to manage; and enough first responders and equipment to conduct the burn safely.

“Patience, persistence, planning, preparation and professionalism paid off in carrying out this prescribed burn,” said Jeff Gater, Diablo Canyon Fire Department Manager. “There was patience in waiting for the right combination of wind speed / direction, moisture from the live and dead fuel, and weather conditions which made for a great result. Stakeholders have shown perseverance not to give up when difficulties in completing the burn have arisen. Thorough planning was the key to lining up and getting all the players and elements in place to make things go smoothly. ”

Gater said extensive preparations included mowing firestops, chewing fuels laterally at control lines, and placing flexible hoses and portable tanks well in advance of firing. “The skill, experience and professionalism of everyone on the line of fire made it possible to achieve this safe and successful result. The burn involved more than 100 people and there were no accidents, injuries or human performance events to speak of. ”

“The prescribed burn on November 12 was a prime example of several agencies – Cal Fire San Luis Obispo County Fire, PG&E, the National Weather Service, and San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District – all working together to achieve the common goal of reintroducing fire in areas adjacent to the lighthouse. These areas have not seen a fire in decades, resulting in large amounts of dead material that is prone to large and damaging fires. Cal Fire San Luis Obispo County Fire supports these types of fuel reduction projects. The public should expect to see many more types of similar projects in the future across the county, ”Cal Fire Battalion Chief Dennis O’Neil told me.

Steve Crawford, PG&E Public Safety Specialist, said: “This control burn illustrates teamwork and cooperation demonstrating the ability of different agencies as well as the diversity within organizations to work cooperatively to achieve goals. of all. “

Controlled burns: an ancestral practice

There is ample evidence that Native Americans drastically altered the character of the Central Coast landscape with fire. Henry Lewis, award-winning author, educator and historian, concluded that American Indians used fire to burn vegetation for at least 70 reasons. The main reasons were hunting, crop management, improving growth yield and controlling pests. Native American use of fire tended to replace woodlands with grasslands.

The vegetation burns lasted after the establishment of the Spanish missions. However, the early settlers in California who did not understand the benefits of vegetation burns asked the governor to stop them.

Anthropologists and botanists say that the frequent fires of Native Americans supported a park-like landscape with scattered grass and oak trees.

Over the years, PG&E prescribed burns on Diablo Canyon lands have improved the local ecosystem and reduced the threat of wildfires.

“The Diablo Canyon lands have a long history of fuel reduction work to reduce the potential for forest fire impacts. The work may include manual removal of vegetation under power lines or the use of prescribed fires away from the power plant. PG&E works in cooperation with Cal Fire and the Air Pollution Control District to plan and conduct prescribed burns. These fires are critical to maintaining the diversity of the land in Diablo Canyon, ”Kelly Kephart, PG&E Terrestrial Biologist, said.

The prescribed burn on November 12 was carried out by Cal Fire, the PG&E Diablo Canyon Fire Department, a public safety specialist from PG&E, the Air Pollution Control District, the California Conservation Corps and the California Men’s Colony .

John Lindsey is the marine meteorologist for Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s Diablo Canyon Power Plant and a media relations representative. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @PGE_John.

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