News & Stories abstracts
Dec 6th, 2009

Fire and Ice

(The Paintbrush, January-February 2010)

Text by Jane Strong, photos by Graham Bothwell

You often hear people whining about southern California having no weather, no seasons. I beg to differ. All you have to do is go up the mountains to a higher elevation. There you have winter weather: snow, ice, fog, frost. You have fire season: Santa Ana winds, single digit humidity. You have rainy season: mist, slick roads, rocks tumbling down, debris flows.

Top: Power line not yet restored. Most of the services in the burn areas, including power lines, have already been restored.
Bottom: Along Angeles Crest Highway south of Clear Creek
Top: Snowy slope at higher elevation
Bottom: A powdering of snow along the highway north of Dawson Saddle.

All may result in road closures limiting access to our mountains. The scenic Angeles Crest Highway reopened November 30 afer being closed as a result of the Station Fire which began on August 26, 2009. It had previously been reopened on May 20, 2009, after closure to repair storm damage in the winter of 2004-2005. As of December 6, the whole route has been driveable a grand total of 106 days since 2004.

Graham Bothwell and I were fortunate enough to drive the road in the six-day interval between the opening after the fire and the closing for the predicted storm. Here's what we saw

The burning was erratic. In some areas trees and shrubs are completely burned to the ground leaving denuded slopes. In others the trees are only singed brown along the top or charred black up the trunks. There are islands of unburned forest. Most of the area, though, has barren ash-covered ground with stark black branches. Some shrubs such as bigberry manzanita and laurel sumac, have already started to regenerate. There is a foot or more of new growth even without rain. Small cryptanthas have emerged on the berms. One of our members discovered that California satintail (Imperata brevifolia), a CNPS List 2 rare grass, survived the fire in Big Tujunga Canyon.

At work between La Canada and Chilao were the utility companies, AT&T and Edison, putting in new poles and stringing up new lines; contractors cleaning debris basins, putting in new drains (those round, wide-diameter, upright aluminum pipes), building guard rails, installing new signage, several different companies removing burned trees, many dump trucks hauling debris to elsewhere; and the administering agencies, LA County Fire, ANF Fire, CalTrans, and LA Co Public Works (roads), inspecting burns, drains, edges of roads.

The hillslopes are full of debris potentially ready to go, cones of gravel eager to follow the slope pulled by gravity, eased by rain. There is nothing to hold it back.

The high country did not burn and the most beautiful areas to me, Chilao and Buckhorn, are as fine as ever. Except that on the day we were were there, there was fresh powdery snow. This changed how everything looked, especially the rocks and the springs. There was no green and it was hard to recognize Lily, Cortelyou and Winston Springs. They were white, like the frosted rocks on the surrounding slopes, like the icing on a multi-layered cake. It was outstandingly beautiful.

Further explore the fire and ice along the Angeles Crest Highway at this URL below:

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