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Posts Tagged: wildfire

Horse country is often in wildfire-prone areas

A population of 700,000 horses call California home and many of them live in areas susceptible to wildfire. UC Cooperative Extension forest and fire advisor Kate Wilkin says says landowners can take advantage of equine grazing habits - eating down to the nub - to create a fire safety zone, reported Denise Steffanus in the Paulick Report.

“Having heavy grazing around your structures and then feathering it out as you go farther away from the structures is one way to protect the property,” Wilkin said. “Of course, you want to be careful not to destroy that forage by overgrazing that will cause erosion.”

Just like all rural residents, horse owners should establish a defensible safety zone around structures, including houses, barns, arenas and other outbuildings. Trees should be thinned to create a 15-foot gap between tree tops and shrubbery cleared so it won't ladder fire from the ground to the canopy.

Wilkin said a larger safety zone can serve as an oasis for horses during a wildfire. 

“For a lot of fires, if you have an irrigated pasture and you can open the gate so the horses can leave if they need to, they will often be OK,” Wilkin said. “Ultimately, you want it to be a large area … it could be an area about half-mile in diameter, and it needs to be that large to keep the heat from affecting your lungs and your horse's lungs. … You can have trees if they are widely spaced and don't have ‘ladder fuel' around them. Then you can have shade on the property but still be more fire safe.”

Wilkin added that farm owners should not rely on a body of water as a firebreak.

“An ember can travel a mile or more during a wildfire,” she said. “While a creek or a larger body of water can slow a fire down, if there are winds and high temperatures, the fire is still going to cross it.”

UCCE forest and fire advisor Kate Wilkin examines a tree with an old fire scar.
Posted on Thursday, July 12, 2018 at 12:55 PM
Tags: Kate Wilkin (3), wildfire (124)
Focus Area Tags: Environment

Autumn wildfire set up research on 'smoke taint' in wine

With the value of wine riding on a delicate balance of aroma and flavor, the impact of winegrapes' exposure to smoke from a wildfire could have significant economic consequences. Last fall's Northern California wildfires sent smoke wafting over an experimental vineyard in Napa Valley, giving scientists the opportunity to study the interplay of smoke and wine quality, reported Jeff Quackenbush in the North Bay Business Journal.

"The moment the smoke started, my phone started ringing off the hook," said Anita Olberholster, UC Cooperative Extension viticulture and enology specialist. “I quickly realized how thin the data is I need to base recommendations on.”

Aerial view of smoke from the 2017 fires in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The fires near the UC Davis vineyard provided the perfect experimental platform. Olberholster and her research team sprang into action to start a research project on the fly. Remaining grapes on smoke-exposed vines were picked, loads of commercially grown grapes deemed too questionable for commercial wineries were accepted. Over the past five months, small batches of wine were made from the grapes.

“They all have different levels of smoky character,” Olberholster said. “Some on the nose are actually quite pleasant and not smoky, but the aftertaste is the problem. All of them, even if in small amounts, had that ‘old smoke,' ‘ashtray,' ‘new smoke' aftertaste. It all depends on how sensitive you're going to be at it.”

The scientists are now looking for a process that will remove the smoky compounds, as little as possible of anything else.

Posted on Friday, April 6, 2018 at 8:34 AM
Tags: Anita Olberholster (1), smoke taint (1), wildfire (124), wine (3)
Focus Area Tags: Economic Development

Utility to turn off power when fire risk is high

During periods of "extreme fire conditions," PG&E will shut off electric power lines to prevent wildfires, reported Dale Kasler in the Sacramento Bee.

The reporter spoke to Lenya Quinn-Davidson, UC Cooperative Extension area fire advisor in Northern California, about the utility's proposed actions. She said PG&E will have to give communities plenty of advance warning before turning off power so residents aren't left without a means of receiving emergency information.

"They're going to have to do a lot of good community outreach so people will be prepared," she said. Still, she called it "a reasonable short-term solution while they're figuring out other things" to reduce fire risks.

 

Lenya Quinn-Davidson, the UC Cooperative Extension area farm advisor who serves Humboldt, Siskiyou, Trinity and Mendocino counties. (Photo: Larry Luckham)
Posted on Monday, March 26, 2018 at 9:33 AM
Focus Area Tags: Natural Resources

Ventura ranchers thank UC Cooperative Extension

The Ventura County Cattlemen's Association publicly thanked UC Cooperative Extension and other organizations for their support during the devastating wildfires of late 2017.

In the space of 12 hours, the Thomas Fire ripped through vital grazing land that cattle rely on for their daily feed. Some animals were also killed in the fire. In a letter to the Ventura County Star, Beverly Bigger, president of the Ventura County Cattlemen's Association, said UCCE livestock and range advisor Matthew Shapero, the Ventura County agricultural commissioner and representatives of Ventura County animal services established an emergency program to supply five days of hay until ranchers could get on their feet.

UC Cooperative Extension also served as a one-stop location where ranchers could meet with representatives from multiple agencies to apply for assistance programs.

"We want to thank and recognize them for helping us in our time of need. We look forward to returning to our passion: managing and improving the land and continuing Ventura County's ranching heritage," Bigger wrote.

When rangeland burns, ranchers must scramble to feed their cattle. In Ventura County, UC Cooperative Extension stepped in to help after the Thomas Fire. (Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Posted on Wednesday, January 17, 2018 at 10:49 AM
Tags: cattle (3), Matthew Shapero (1), rangeland (5), wildfire (124)
Focus Area Tags: Economic Development

Newly minted UC fire scientist Kate Wilkin moves into fire country

Kate Wilkin inspects a ponderosa pine on her property with an old fire scar, undeniable evidence that fire has swept through her neighborhood in the past.

Fire scientist Kate Wilkin was on the job just a few weeks when ferocious winds whipped up the Northern California firestorm of 2017. The national media focused on Napa and Sonoma counties, where the deadly Tubbs fire became the most destructive wildfire in California history, while devastating fires also broke out in Butte, Nevada, Yuba and other counties.

It was crunch time for Wilkin, who stepped in as the new forestry, fire science and natural resources advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in Sutter, Yuba, Nevada and Butte counties that fall. Four lives and 200 homes were lost in her new work community. Wilkin will now host workshops to help families and businesses recover from the firestorm and rebuild in a way that is more resilient to fire. Fire resiliency will start at her own home.

The Wilkin-Johnston home is at the top of a rise dotted with cedars, ponderosa pines and black oaks. The dying plants in the foreground are Himalayan blackberry bushes that were treated with glyphosate (RoundUp) to remove them. The invasive weed forms a continuous understory that climbs into tree canopies and can carry fire with it. Wilkin removed one blackberry stem from a cedar tree that was more than 30 feet long.

From the Bay Area to the small town of Grass Valley

Wilkin and her husband Josiah Johnston moved into their first home, a ranch-style rambler atop a hill in Grass Valley, on Sept. 15, three days before Wilkin reported to work in the Sutter-Yuba County UC Cooperative Extension office in Yuba City.

The couple moved from a small apartment in Berkeley, where Wilkin was conducting research as a post-doc in the lab of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources researcher and UC Berkeley fire science professor Scott Stephens. The move from a hyper-urban Bay Area city to a small hamlet in the hills wasn't too much of shock to their systems. Johnston was raised on a farm with chickens and goats. Wilkin grew up in the rural Appalachia community of Abingdon, Va. After completing her bachelor's degree at the College of William and Mary, an internship with the Nature Conservancy in Kissimmee, Fla., introduced Wilkin to fire science.

“In the Disney Wilderness Preserve, the landscape would burn then flood every year,” Wilkin said. “I became fascinated with how these disturbances catalyzed diversity.”

What better place to continue a fire education than California?

Wilkin enrolled at CalPoly, San Luis Obispo, earning a master's degree in biology. She spent the next three years in Yosemite National Park, working with a team of scientists to understand the impacts of packhorse grazing in mountain meadows.

“We found that the current policies led to meadow degradation,” Wilkin said. Yosemite then changed its policy to reduce the amount of horse grazing on these tender, sensitive mountain resources.

Kate Wilkin and her husband Josiah Johnston in front of their Grass Valley home.

In 2011, Wilkin started work on her doctorate at UC Berkeley, where she studied the relationship between fire, forest diversity and water. Wilkin signed up for the pilot Graduate Students in Extension program at Berkeley, launched in 2014 to train and recruit graduate students for careers in research and outreach.

“The … internship gave me an amazing set of professional skills that I could practice, including media relations, public speaking to different audiences, and conference organizing and facilitating,” Wilkin told Science Magazine for an article about the innovative program. “Many of my colleagues and I see environmental problems and want to do applied research because we want to help find solutions.”

The railing and both sides of the siding on the deck were covered in wooden lattice by the previous homeowners. Wilkin and Johnston found a squirrel cache between the layers of lattice, with acorns, pinecones, needles and other dry plant debris. “It was the perfect place to start a fire,” Wilkin said.

Beginning at home

With full knowledge of the dangers of living in fire-prone areas, Wilkin and Johnston purchased a home close to the outdoor amenities they adore – hiking, backpacking and skiing.

“Tahoe is just an hour away,” Wilkin said. “I love the view from the house and the wooded setting. But we live in an area CalFire has designated as very high fire danger.”

As a fire scientist, Wilkin was well equipped to make changes to the home and landscape to minimize the risk.

“We moved in during peak fire season,” Wilkin said. “We didn't hang artwork. My priority was to make the home and deck more fire resistant. We put in one-eighth-inch mesh over the vents, caulked around doors and windows, blew leaves off the roof and deck, removed lattice wrapping the deck and cleaned the gutters. Then we created defensible space starting close to the house and working our way outward."

The couple labored about 200 hours and spent about $800 in the first six weeks buying and renting tools, including a chipper, saw and a truck to haul away tinder-dry lattice, foliage and pine needles. With the most critical fireproofing completed, the couple is now tallying the work that should be done to further enhance the fire safety of their home.

“We probably need another $6,000 to $7,000 of work,” Wilkin said.

To reduce large, hot embers from drifting into the basement and starting a fire in the home, Wilkin and Johnston installed one-eighth-inch mesh over the vents. Before next fire season, they will upgrade to vents that close during fires.

When the North Winds blow

Wilkin recalled the terrifying time about a month after moving into their new home when howling winds whipped around the house and fires were breaking out across Northern California.

“The North Winds are haunting,” she said. “I hadn't felt wind like that since I lived in Florida and experienced hurricanes.”

Wilkin and Johnston were fortunate. The closest fire to their home was the McCourtney Fire, which burned 76 acres in Grass Valley. The wildfire stayed two miles away.

A thick hedge of camellias borders the side of the home. Although ideally homes should have a five-foot zone immediately surrounding the house clear of burnable objects and plants, she didn’t have the heart to pull them all out when they were full of flower buds, but removed them after they bloomed.
 
Complex features on the roof – such as skylights, solar panels and a valley that can capture debris – require frequent maintenance to keep the roof fire safe. Johnston tacked down loose flashing on the roof and blew leaves off the roof and out of the gutters.
 
The previous homeowners installed a shrub-lined wood fence that went under the deck and attached to the house. “It was a perfect way for a fire to wick into the house,” Wilkin said. The couple removed the shrubs and fence slats and plan to remove the posts as well.
Posted on Tuesday, January 16, 2018 at 8:40 AM
Tags: Kate Wilkin (3), wildfire (124)
Focus Area Tags: Environment

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