Wild Rose Wilderness: Blackened Trees

You don't always want to hear the sound of chainsaws when you are taking a nice walk in the woods, but today it's kind of special. You may have heard about the Joaquin Miller Park fire on the news.

Today I drove up into the fog, which shrouded the hillside. I went past my usual turnoff and emerged into sunlight. I turned up Skyline and parked at the Horse Arena, where drove as far as I could, until my way was blocked by...fire trucks! I went back and parked, and  heard the sound of a two-stroke motor. I walked up the path but was blocked this time by traffic cones, a truck, and a massive tree across the road.

As I made my way back to the fire trucks, a pick-up full of yellow hoses drove by me. The three friendly fire-fighters told me they'd come up to collect them after soaking the fire area overnight. After posing for a victory photo, the one with "R. Johnson" emblazoned on his jacket led me through the jumbled forest to a pile of blackened trees on a high, hidden hillside, which seemed to still be smoking as the morning sun drew steam off the wet, charred wood. 

There had been no lightning strikes, so his guess was someone was enjoyed an evening smoke where they couldn't be seen, in this beautiful secluded area. Embers smoldered overnight through about an acre of peaty ground cover, decades of layers of fallen leaves and flames emerged in the morning. When they'd come up on Monday, there was smoke in the air, and flakes of ash fell from the sky, but no one could find the fire!

Mike Kowalewski of the Oakland Bike Patrol happened to be in the area when he smelled smoke. On the FOJMP listserv, he reported,

"I took some circles, including in the Redwood Bowl area, as that's where I could smell smoke. On the pavement near top of Fern Ravine, I chatted with a man walking his dog. He pointed me to where he could see the smoke, the knoll above Wild Rose trail. I approached via WR, woah! He wasn't kidding. I stepped uphill from the top of the trail to investigate, and somehow was still surprised to see open flames."

Two firefighters had found the blaze and had started in with their fire rakes, a.k.a. McLeods. Mike acted quickly to find the rest of the crew, who were still sniffing around. Fortunately for everyone who lives in these hills, Mike knows this park like the back of his hand. The best route was blocked by the recently fallen tree that was being carved up this morning. Mike was able to direct them to hidden trails and find the quickest routes back to the fire. 

I stand and survey the burned area, moved by the exquisite morning light on the surviving redwoods, challenged by the char but they're designed to survive fire. All is well now, but this was a very close call. This secret hillside, which has a view of the city, is a favorite party spot for some. A tossed butt, a spark, a fallen match likely started the burning underground. This is exactly how the 1990 Firestorm began. 

The city is installing tire spikes at Sanborn road that will very seriously close off the park when there's fire danger, and the fire department is hoping to work with FOJMP for better signage. It's too early for fire season. And we can't assume this year is pre-disastered. Keep your butts at home! Wait...strike that...come to the Park! But don't strike your matches here!


  1. If a fire burns and nobody is there, does it smell like smoke?

  2. Yikes. I was going to correct it with "keep your smouldering butts at home" but...I mean...how about "keep your stinky butts"? Better but so much room for interpretation and so judgy...Perhaps this whole discussion is too cheeky? How about just Don't smoke in the freaking forest? Don't think that's going to quite cover it either. Regardless, I love that we were all saved by a bicyclist for the bicycle shall set us free.


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