Air quality in the San Francisco Bay Area has been the worst I've experienced in the eight years we've been here. The massive Soberanes Fire, just south of Carmel and 70 miles to the south of San Jose pumped out tonnes of smoke that were blown north getting trapped in the Santa Clara Valley. Even Hearst Castle was at risk at one stage when the fast moving Chimney Fire's flames licked to within 2 miles of the tourist attraction.
Meanwhile in Louisiana, massive flooding devastated the state this summer. Like all things in nature - enough water is valuable but too much is a disaster.
Surprisingly, the same can be said about wildfires. Not all wildfires are as destructive as those mentioned above. Wild fires are a natural phenomena in California that even aids native plant growth.
For the past few years, I've been very lucky to have been employed on a seasonal basis by Creekside Science, a conservation agency. One of the projects I help out with is population monitoring of the endangered Bay Checkerspot Butterfly in the hills east of San Jose. This is private land, and I consider it a privilege to get to go up there with the Creekside Staff, not to mention just how much fun they are and what a joy it is to work with them.
So I was concerned about my friends when I learned that here was a wildfire on that land. Upon checking in with my friend, she mentioned that she needed to go up have a look at it and I jumped at the opportunity to go with her.
It did look bleak with so much blackened vegetation.
Down in the valley, below a huge black boar/wild pig raced for non-existent cover. Not that he needed it, as his dark brown coloring helped him blend into the background.
My feeble suggestion to go back, get a picture, was met with a raised eyebrow. I decided no.
On closer inspection, it was interesting to see how the fire had skipped over some places leaving patches of vegetation in swaths of blackened grass.
In fact, the fire even helps certain seeds to germinate.
At first glance the fire seemed all consuming, but up close you could see that while the vegetation was scorched and burned, the soil wasn't. Here is where the caterpillars are hiding until the rainy season... waiting for their food sources to germinate and grow.
Sadly, fire is understandably frightening for us humans. We stop it and in doing so that can actually cause more problems further down the line. In the case if this grassland fire, the methods needed to stop the fire are destructive for the local flora. Fire beaks, where the land is plowed up, destroy delicate habitat and mash up endangered species.
In California, fires will happen. Should we let them burn or not? Is it possible to manage them in a way that promotes harmony between us and the natural order? There are no simple straightforward answers to this. We humans need to live too. Figuring out how to do that, inflicting the least harm on our environment is one of our biggest challenges, but one we must address.