Forest and Community Resilience During the Thomas Fire

One of the active fronts of the Thomas Fire.

Click here for updated Thomas Fire information and maps.

The Thomas Fire is well on its way to becoming the largest wildfire in California history. Yet as the smoke begins to fade, and as some of us begin to return to our homes and offices, we are inspired by acts of kindness and generosity – both big and small – that are unfolding all around us.

From the bravery of our first responders, to neighbors helping neighbors (and strangers helping strangers), and to local businesses lending a hand, it’s going to take all of us working together to rebuild our communities and our national forest.

So far, the fire has burned more than 270,000 acres. More than half of that is national forest land. It will take time to fully assess how fire has changed this landscape, but we already know that places like Rose Valley, Matilija Wilderness, Santa Paula Canyon, Sespe Creek, and most of the front-country between Santa Barbara and Ojai look remarkably different. Large portions of the national forest will be closed for many months.

Our thoughts are also with the family of Cal Fire Engineer Cory Iverson, who lost his life last week while fighting the fire near Sespe Creek north of Fillmore.

Lupines growing along the Hurricane Deck in the San Rafael Wilderness during the spring immediately following the Zaca Fire of 2007.

Right now, the best we can do is to let the firefighters do their work. And then, once the fire is fully contained, we’ll need to let nature do its work. Chaparral is remarkably resilient and new shoots are already underway. Oak trees seemingly torched will come back to life. Manzanita will resprout from underground burls. And fire poppies – which are only seen following a wildfire – will paint our local hillsides with vibrant colors for years to come.

As this process unfolds, we will need all hands on deck. Here are some specific ways you can get involved, both right now and in the coming months:

  • Support Local Businesses: Our local shops and restaurants have taken a huge financial hit from the fire. Please consider supporting them with your holiday shopping so that they can keep their doors open. They are the companies who support local nonprofits like ForestWatch and we all need to make sure we return the favor in their time of need.
  • Volunteer: Nature is best left to regenerate on its own, and planting or seeding projects can sometimes interfere with this process and do more harm than good. However, beginning in the spring, we’ll need your help to remove trash from newly-exposed areas, to monitor for off-road vehicle trespass in burn areas, and to survey and eradicate invasive weeds that will try to invade these barren hillsides. We’ll also need to conduct field work to determine how the fire has affected the habitats of rare plants and animals. If you would like to sign up for our volunteer projects, click here.
  • Fire poppies only make an appearance in areas that have recently burned.

    Keep in Touch: Regularly visit our website, and learn more about how we are helping with recovery efforts in the coming months.

Also, looking ahead, the Thomas Fire will undoubtedly elevate the topic of wildfire in our public discourse. We’ll need to ensure that our decision-makers respond to this tragedy, and prepare for the next one, in a way that is science-based and environmentally-appropriate. If we truly want to protect our communities from the next wildfire, then we need to focus on the most proven and effective ways of doing so. That will involve making some difficult decisions on where we allow homes to be built, and how we can better encourage residents to make their homes fire-resistant and defensible.

Chef Hugh Acheson and his team joined ForestWatch to deliver tacos to first responders during the first week of the Thomas Fire.

But for now, we hope that you will join us in thanking everyone who is helping to protect and restore our communities and our forest, and to do your part in a way that is meaningful to you. A few days ago, we received a call from renowned Chef Hugh Acheson and his crew who wanted to re-route his book tour in order to assist fire victims. We connected him with locals in Upper Ojai, and together we traveled behind the firelines and served two hundred tacos to first responders, utility workers, and local residents in Upper Ojai.

Every little action helps, and we look forward to having you join us in the new year as we continue to make a difference in our forest, and in our community.

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