Station Fire

I have a cool job.  I really do.  I’ve always liked maps, geography, and the outdoors, and I happened to get a job where I make maps of things that are of importance to the Forest Service!  In particular, my expertise is in the world of mapping the severity of wildfires.  These maps help emergency rehab teams as they come in after the fire is out and make plans to mitigate for debris flows, erosion, floods, etc., as a result of the recently denuded hillslope above private property or other “values at risk.”  I’ve made these maps for fires all over the US, Greece, Australia, and Canada.

It’s totally an office job, but I get to buy and use satellite imagery every day (think Google Earth — yeah, well, I was doing that kind of stuff before Google caught on).  Despite my office setting, I have a number of opportunities to travel the country every year to not only see some wildfires, but give presentations on the work I’ve been doing.

Last week was no different.  I was invited down by a group of specialists who worked on a huge fire that burned in the Angeles National Forest last Sept-Oct.  It was called the Station Fire and was the 10th-largest fire in Cali since 1933.  Seriously, you’ve gotta check out this link to a guy who took time-lapse photography of the smoke plume; it looks like a friggin’ volcano exploded in LA.  I mapped this fire as it happened last year, and this group of specialists pounded the ground to make emergency stabilization plans.  Now, 8 months later, they reassembled to “revisit” the area for a lessons-learned sort of exercise.  They also invited me to do two things:

  1. Use satellite imagery to track how well (or poorly) the vegetation has regenerated — therefore creating a ground cover of sorts that will slow erosion of junk into people’s backyards and the rivers in the area
  2. Acquire some high resolution satellite imagery of an area that experienced a major debris flow in February as a result of storms.

I did this work and made my hour-long presentation to the group on Tuesday morning.  It was great and I actually love making these presentation, mostly because what I do is so “gee whiz” that I don’t have to be very smart to wow people.

I spent the rest of Tuesday in the field making recon visits to the burned forest.  I saw areas where vegetation is coming back very full and others where you’d swear it burned yesterday.  I saw burned down homes; I saw rivers that have 3 more feet of sediment than they had last year at this time; I saw debris flows that buried property and vegetation; and etc.  These things are always eye-openers, but this was my first fire I’ve visited in California, so the added political, media, and sheer number of people pressures really add to what these guys have to deal with.  Some of the pictures I took are below:

This guy was in charge of assessing all potentially hazardous materials that were exposed due to fire.  In one case, he had to make plans for a heavily-used shooting range that burned over.  With no ground cover, the soil wanted to move downslope to a river.  Problem was that it was full of lead!  Not good.

One of the burned down properties.  Notice the chimney still standing.

This is the Big Tujunga Reservoir.  Notice the boom in the water keeping the sediment and logs away from the dam.  That water is full of junk that came off these burned hills.

All vegetation you see here is new since the fire.

Another burned property.  There was a propane tank behind me that was saved, no doubt by firefighters trying to keep the explosions away.

This tree died in the fire and happened to be adjacent to a trail.  Dead trees next to trails are a real hazard because they can fall over at any moment, so this fella was cut down.

Yay!  There is some life out there…

Ouch.  This guy didn’t make it.

The bottom of this power pole was burned so the top fell off.  However, the lines stayed connected.  You could walk over to these transmission lines and they’d be at your waist.  Slight hazard…good thing this area was closed to the public.

This was the living quarters for firefighters (wildland, not structure) up in the woods.  It didn’t make it.  Notice the burned mountain bike right in front and the partially burned hose on the left.

And last and certainly least, downtown LA is in the distance.

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