- Author: Mike Hsu
Planning brochure for pets, livestock fills crucial need as fires an increasing threat
With the McKinney Fire creeping closer to Yreka in the summer of 2022, Emily Jackson and her mother potentially faced the enormous task of getting all their goats, chickens, dogs and cats to safety – while Emily's father and twin sister Lindsay were away fighting the fires.
Fortunately, Emily and Lindsay had gained crucial knowledge about evacuating animals through a 4-H service-learning project they helped lead in 2018. A group of eight 4-H youths, ages 14 to 18, had created a “Pet Emergency Evacuation Plan” (PEEP) brochure, aimed at educating their neighbors in Siskiyou County about the necessary preparations for livestock and pets.
The brochure, available through the Siskiyou County website, remains in use today in this densely forested region that saw another spate of wildfires this summer. The PEEP project team was composed of Kylie Daws, Emily Jackson, Lindsay Jackson, Will Morris, Madison Restine, Maryssa Rodriguez, Emily Smith and Callahan Zediker.
Within those stressful hours in 2022 when the McKinney Fire prompted an evacuation warning during which residents could be required to leave at any moment, Emily Jackson said she and her mother had a game plan in place – thanks to her work on the PEEP project.
“At the time, it wasn't even on my mind,” Jackson said, “but looking back now, I know that having the experience from making that brochure was driving my thought process at the time.”
And while the Jackson family and their neighbors ultimately were not asked to evacuate in 2022, many community members have benefited from the hundreds of copies of the PEEP brochure in circulation, which prompts residents to at least think about what their animals would need in an emergency, Jackson said.
Pet and livestock evacuation tips were needed
Such a resource previously had not been available among the county's emergency preparation materials, according to Jacki Zediker, the 4-H regional program coordinator in Siskiyou County who advised the PEEP project group.
“One piece that was missing was how to help our communities understand that when they evacuate, and they take their pets with them…it's not as simple as just taking their pets with them,” said Zediker, citing the example that some shelters do not take in animals – or do not take animals without proof of vaccination.
Other items to add to the pet's emergency kit include food for several days, water, medications, comfort items or toys, and recent photos of the owner with their animal (proof of ownership).
Zediker had connected the young people with Jodi Aceves, senior deputy agriculture commissioner/sealer for Siskiyou County, who had been overseeing the county's Animal Control programs and emergency response.
“There's a lot of information out there for people evacuating, but not necessarily for livestock and pets,” Aceves said. “Unfortunately, we have had some fires where there were lots of pets and livestock lost.”
She met several times with the 4-H group, discussing the county's evacuation systems and processes and the role of the Office of Emergency Services and law enforcement agencies, and sharing key considerations in preparing for emergencies – such as having a pre-agreement in place with someone who could house an evacuee's animals.
Aceves praised the teens for distilling the vital information into a short and simple brochure that community members could easily read and remember. She also was impressed by the energy and genuine care that the young people put into the project.
“Most of their lives, every summer, they've been in fire,” Aceves said. “It's close to their hearts, and they've seen a lot of their neighbors and other people in the county either affected by fire or evacuated at some point.”
For Lindsay Jackson, in particular, fire and serving the community have been lifelong passions, inspired by her father's work in the area.
“My dad was a volunteer fire chief for the South Yreka Fire Department; he was doing that since I was about two or three, so I grew up watching him go to the trainings, go to a call,” she explained. “When I was 15, I joined the fire department as a cadet to help out with the medical side, but the more I volunteered, I really liked the fire side, too.”
Jackson added that Zediker has a special knack for nurturing and encouraging the interests of the 4-H participants and applying them in a productive way.
“Jacki was really good at figuring out where our passions were and then how we could put our passions into a service-learning project,” she said. “She knew I was really big into fire and helping the community in that way since I was young.”
Zediker also helped the Jackson twins on their senior project, a fire-safety field day at the South Yreka fire station. More than 100 schoolchildren learned fire safety basics, met firefighters and emergency personnel, and heard about 4-H from Lindsay and Emily.
4-H experiences, mentorship inspire career paths
The PEEP project group also was asked by several organizations to share their knowledge about emergency preparations for animals. In addition to presenting a poster about their work at the 4-H California Focus conference in 2018, the group handed out the brochure and shared information at a table during a Juniper Flat Fire Safe Council workshop and resource fair.
Beyond distributing the PEEP brochure at 4-H club meetings, school events and community meetings, the youths have lent their voices to advocating for emergency resources for animals. Zediker noted that they contributed testimonials that helped the county acquire grants for purchasing more portable kennels.
But the most enduring impact of 4-H participation and community service, however, is that those experiences were a springboard for the young adults' careers. Emily Jackson – who participated in 4-H from age 5 to 19 – is now working toward a master's degree in biology at Cal Poly Humboldt, studying how fire suppression and other factors have changed plant communities in the Russian Wilderness.
Whether training colleagues as a U.S. Forest Service crew lead for the past couple of summers, or leading lab sections in general botany as a graduate student, Jackson said she draws on her 4-H experiences – and Zediker's inspirational example – as she pursues a career in teaching.
“In my development as a young adult into an adult now, I cannot overstate how big of a role Jacki played in that,” Jackson said.
Her sister Lindsay, meanwhile, has pursued her passion for fire all the way through the fire academy at College of the Siskiyous, where she also earned her emergency medical technician (EMT) license. Most recently working on fires near Pondosa in Siskiyou County, Jackson has been a seasonal firefighter based at the McCloud CAL FIRE station since 2020.
“It's hard because, in the last three years, I haven't left Siskiyou County, there's just been so many fires here,” she said. “But it's nice being able to help your community and know you're making a difference.”
Lindsay Jackson intends to pursue a bachelor's degree in leadership studies at Cal Poly Humboldt in hopes of getting a full-time position with CAL FIRE./h3>/h3>/h3>
- Author: Grace Dean
In Spring of 2022, UC ANR launched its first Post-Fire Resilience Workshop. Since 2022, the workshop has traveled to Alpine, El Dorado, Plumas, Mariposa, Fresno, Madera, and Napa counties, and has reached 97 participants. The program continues to gain positive feedback and broadening statewide interest.
The UC ANR Post-Fire Resilience program has provided educational assistance to non-industrial private forest landowners throughout California who have been affected by wildfire. The program's workshop offering is headed by Post-Fire Academic Coordinator Katie Reidy, who aims to provide landowners with an opportunity to learn ways to proceed with their forested land, post-fire. Reidy explains that for landowners, the act of returning to post-wildfire property is “An emotional experience. The drastic change can be overwhelming.”
The Post-Fire team understands that for landowners in this situation, taking the first steps toward post-fire recovery can be the hardest. Reidy shares that the workshop is therefore “Designed to provide stepping stones and educational tools for landowners. It helps them think about how to manage their land for the future; how to encourage the land to grow back.” Beginning September 14th, the team is inviting private forest landowners, agency folks, and interested community members in Siskiyou, Shasta, and Trinity counties to their next workshop cohort.
Participants of the workshop will engage in weekly workshop sessions over Zoom on Thursday nights from 6-7:30pm from September 14th- October 26th, with in-person field trip days on November 3rd, 4th, and 5th (one day per county). Weekly sessions will consist of information on post-fire issues such as removing hazard trees, reforestation, erosion control, managing competing vegetation and local assistance programs. A variety of speakers and resource professionals supplement each session by sharing their expertise on topics.
At the end of the online Zoom sessions, participants are invited to an in-person field day. Here, they examine the impacts of fire and observe post-fire management practices on both private and public lands. The in-person field day also provides an opportunity for unstructured conversations among participants and professionals, where landowners are encouraged to ask questions about specific forest management strategies. Field trips consist of multiple stops, a process that aids in visualizing strategies for managing different post-fire problems.
For instance, one stop may highlight high-severity fire impacts with reforestation needs/efforts, while another stop may demonstrate ways to manage competing vegetation and resprouting trees. One past participant remarked that the in-person field trips were the most impactful portion of the series. The trips were a place where they could “Meet other people in the community facing the same situation we were.”
It's true that the Post-Fire workshop program guides workshop participants to find inspiration in regional success stories. Yet participants leave the program with so much more: a newfound or increased knowledge base and network that will help their projects succeed. The camaraderie that occurs in the workshop is powerful, shares Daylin Wade, Post-Fire Staff Research Associate.
Wade expresses that the program “Creates an opportunity for the community to learn from each other in addition to experts. Learning happens through discussions amongst participants that augments learning from the speakers”. Personal accounts of people's experience with fire recovery are valuable for other participants to hear, she notes. Wade shares that at a previous workshop: “One landowner who had experienced fire 3 years ago provided learning and insights to a landowner who experienced fire only six months ago.”
The tragedy of wildfire events is taken into direct consideration with the workshop, which is not simply a place to learn, but a place to build community resilience. Future workshop participants can expect to experience these connections between inspiration and action and leave the workshop with a new network of support.
The next Post-Fire Resilience workshop series begins September 14th! Interested forest landowners, community members, or tribal members in Siskiyou, Trinity, and Shasta counties should register here: http://ucanr.edu/post-fireregistration. There is a registration fee of $25. Any questions should be directed to Katie Reidy, Post-Fire Forest Resilience Program Coordinator at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Author: Luca Carmignani
How can weed control help with wildfire preparedness?
Wildfires are part of California's ecosystems, and they do not have to lead to the destruction of structures and livelihoods. Each of us can contribute to improving wildfire resilience, from individual homeowners and businesses to entire communities. Managing the vegetation and landscape around our homes can play a crucial role in preventing the spread of fires and sources of ignition.
Given the large amount of rain in the winter of 2022-2023, you might have experienced a surge in annual grasses and fast-growing plants that cover most of the ground around your home and community. In my area, I observed invasive species like wild oats and mustard growing rapidly in the spring, then drying out as summer approached (Figure 1). Dry vegetation poses a major threat to our homes and communities, both in terms of ignition (possibility of starting a fire) and fire path (creating ways for a fire to spread).
Understand fire risks.
Fires require fuel to spread, and any combustible materials, including vegetation, wooden fences, or sheds can serve as fuel. Once ignited, these materials can create a direct fire path toward a residence. Fires also generate embers (small fuel brands transported by the fire plume or wind) that can ignite leaves or debris on roofs and gutters or penetrate directly into a building through vents. Embers can also accumulate near the house, especially within the first 5 feet. You can reduce your home's exposure to flames and embers by implementing defensible space and home hardening strategies. Creating a defensible space involves managing the landscape around buildings (such as houses, sheds, detached garages) to prevent fires from reaching them. Home hardening focuses on improving building components, such as vents, roofs, and gutters, that could reduce exposure to flame and ember ignition. Though it can seem overwhelming to figure out where to begin reducing your home's fire risk, in this article I will walk you through a few simple, cost-effective recommendations that have been shown to make a difference.
Fires can start from weeds.
How do we build a fire in a firepit? We start by adding the smaller kindling, and then the larger pieces of wood. Why? Because twigs and small branches are easy to ignite, they burn quickly, and they can be used to ignite larger logs. Similarly, dry grasses and herbaceous plants are easier to ignite than other types of vegetation such as big shrubs or trees.
Weeds can be ignited directly by flames, or by embers and sparks landing nearby. A mower hitting a rock or sparks from a power tool can easily ignite dry grasses around your property. Using the firepit analogy, ground fuels such as weeds serve as kindling to spread the fire to larger fuels nearby such as fences, decks, and shrubs. Therefore, removing weeds from vulnerable locations, such as near fences (Figure 2), is a very effective way to prevent ignitions around homes and communities, and reduce potential fire paths. It's easier to remove weeds while they are still green. This reduces the risk of ignition caused by mowers and prevents invasive species from reaching maturity and producing viable seeds.
Weeds and fire paths.
In addition to being easy to ignite, dry grass and herbaceous plants can also create fuel continuity. Fuel continuity, or fire path, refers to the way a fire could spread toward a building. There can be both horizontal and vertical paths (Figure 3). Weeds can provide horizontal continuity between shrubs or other combustible materials, increasing the intensity of a fire and bringing it closer to the house. Thus, it is important to create horizontal separations between groups of plants when maintaining vegetation. When burning grass ignites a fence, the fire “climbs up” from the ground, and if the fence is attached to the house, the fire can continue to climb. A fire can reach a building by using this vertical path, often called a “fuel ladder.” The risk of fire spreading to your house can be significantly reduced by removing these potential fire paths, starting with ground fuels like annual grass. However, other sources of ignition, such as embers, may create additional paths. It is therefore crucial to harden house components like vents (for example, by replacing their screens with a metal mesh of 1/8” or smaller) and keep your roof and gutters clean.
What can you do?
Maintaining the landscape and vegetation around your home and community is crucial to preventing losses during a wildfire. Prioritize your actions to reduce the risk of ignition and fire spread around your home starting from the building and working outwards. Below are some recommended actions for creating and maintaining a fire-resilient landscape:
- Remove annual weeds and litter from vulnerable locations such as fences, sheds, siding, and under decks.
- When mowing or removing grass, be careful of sparks from power tools or other machinery, especially near open areas. Make sure you have access to water in case of a fire emergency.
- Break horizontal and vertical fire paths by removing weeds and other vegetation that are easy to ignite (grass, dead twigs, and dry leaves).
- Prune lower branches of shrubs closer to the ground and clean their understory; trim lower limbs of trees that are close to other plants or buildings.
- Mulch can be effective for weed control, but it is also flammable. Do not place mulch in vulnerable locations within the first 5 feet around a structure.
- A fence creates a direct path for fires. If your fence is attached to your house, replace the last 5 feet with a noncombustible section or gate.
- Install metallic 1/8" mesh screens on vents to prevent ember entry.
- Regularly clean roofs and gutters, especially near roof intersections.
- Maintain your landscape throughout the year.
Preventing the ignition of your home during a wildfire is possible, but it requires a combination of home hardening and defensible space strategies. For more information related to wildfire preparedness, check the additional resources below:
- UC ANR Fire website: https://ucanr.edu/sites/fire/
- Reducing the vulnerability of buildings to wildfire: Vegetation and Landscaping Guidance: https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/Details.aspx?itemNo=8695#FullDescription
- Wildfire home retrofit guide: https://www.readyforwildfire.org/wp-content/uploads/Wildfire_Home_Retrfit_Guide-1.26.21.pdf
- Combustibility of landscaping mulches: https://naes.agnt.unr.edu/PMS/Pubs/1510_2011_95.pdf
- Landscaping and home hardening: https://defensiblespace.org/
- Author: Grace Dean
For the past four years, Kim Ingram has been listening closely to the private forest landowners who participate in her Forest Stewardship Workshop series. During the workshops, landowners share their experiences clearing thickets of vegetation, replanting post-wildfire and tackling invasive species, and their concerns of who will take care of their forest when they're gone.
To alleviate their stress, Ingram–Forest Stewardship Education coordinator with University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources–turns to natural resource professionals from CAL FIRE, local Resource Conservation Districts, and the U.S Forest Service who can share knowledge and resources with participants. Recently, Ingram developed a story map that aims to provide landowners with a platform they can use to share their experiences and ways that they have been empowered to manage their land.
"It's not uncommon for small forest landowners to feel overwhelmed with their forest management responsibilities and uncertain over what steps to take first," said Ingram. "Through the Forest Stewardship Workshops and this story map project, we hope to show that there is an entire community of forest landowners in the same situation, learning from each other and moving forward towards their management goals."
The Forest Stewardship Story Map team used ArcGIS StoryMaps to design the project, with 15 participants providing interviews and visual content. StoryMaps provides a user-friendly interface where website visitors can either click on a county to view specific interviews or scroll to view the stories.
The forestry team plans to interview at least one landowner and natural resource professional in every forested county in California so private forest landowners have a local contact or can become inspired by a project in their area.
Theresa Ciafardoni, a forest landowner in Nevada County, said that the UC ANR Forest Stewardship Workshop helped her manage postfire restoration and long-term land use planning.
"It opened up so many options and possibilities," said Ciafardoni. "All the individuals who presented in the Forest Stewardship Workshop were open to phone calls for specific questions and provided invaluable technical assistance."
Involving landowners and forestry professionals with this project was an early decision made by Ingram, who believed it was important that the map held appeal beyond hosting stories. Now, the project functions as a networking tool for landowners seeking professional assistance, too.
Past Forest Stewardship Workshop presenters shared their contact information and the motivations behind their forest management work so that landowners could find assistance in their area. The professionals currently hosted on the map include Resource Conservation District managers, UC ANR forestry advisors and private contractors.
"The most motivated landowners are invested not only economically, but their heart is into it," said Ryan Tompkins, UC Cooperative Extension forestry advisor for Plumas, Sierra and Lassen counties. "The natural world is full of uncertainty, but they're committed to continuing education and learning about how to be a good land steward. This takes a certain level of humility recognizing that our tenure as a steward on the land is a very short period of a forest's lifetime."
Looking ahead, the team envisions the map as a working document that will eventually include interviews with indigenous tribal members who focus on traditional ecological knowledge projects, interviews and information from the UC ANR Postfire Forest Resilience Program, and a feature that will filter stories by topic (e.g. reforestation or prescribed burning).
"This isn't a project that could be completed by one person," explained Grace Dean, Forest Stewardship communications specialist. "The same way that Kim and other presenters explain forest management as a collaborative process holds true for this project."
The Forest Stewardship Workshop series gives participants the ability to start as beginners and build upon their knowledge and experiences. In the same vein, this story map provides the Forest Stewardship team a solid base of real stories to add on to over time. The hope is that it will grow into a multifaceted tool reaching new forest landowners, eventually enveloping their stories within the small forest landowner community.
To view the Forest Stewardship Story Map, visit: https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/bd062108d9894da7920d7aef06fe2c2c.
- Author: Saoimanu Sope
Besides starting fires for the sake of research, Luca Carmignani, UC Cooperative Extension fire advisor for San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles, and Riverside counties, has started leveraging his connection to local UC campuses by providing opportunities for hands-on learning.
Early one morning in May, students and staff from UC Irvine and UC Riverside gathered at the South Coast Research and Extension Center to collect data for their own research projects. South Coast REC, located in Irvine, is part of a statewide network of research and education facilities operated by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.
In one area of the field, graduate students picked leaves and twigs from dried shrubs, carefully placing them in a device that measures moisture content. In another area, a postdoctoral scholar set up a device that records levels of particulate matter, carbon dioxide and other air pollutants emitted by a fire.
Tirtha Banerjee, professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Irvine, coordinated the field day with Carmignani. The two first connected as members of iFireNet, an international network of networks that connect people to fire research, when Carmignani was a postdoctoral researcher at UC Berkeley.
Now, the two are collaborating to help environmental science and engineering students realize the potential of their research interests.
Jacquelynn Nguyen, a Ph.D. student in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at UC Irvine, is interested in understanding how ash from wildfires and prescribed burns can be used as a treatment for per- and polyfluorinated substances. PFAS are a group of “forever chemicals” that can be found in heat-resistant materials – including fire extinguisher foam – and are extremely difficult to eliminate.
Before Nguyen could collect her ash samples, Carmignani needed to cautiously set the dried shrubs on fire, providing a realistic situation for data collection purposes.
“We're trying to figure out if the ashes from these fires can be used as activated carbon, which could be used as a treatment for PFAS,” said Nguyen. “We want to see if this treatment can basically absorb PFAS and prevent it from traveling into soil and groundwater.”
While Nguyen is concerned about the impact that wildfires have on the land, Soroush Neyestani, a postdoctoral scholar in the Environmental Sciences department at UC Riverside, is interested in its impact on the air quality.
During a fire, it's difficult to determine how much emissions are a result of flames versus smoldering, the process of burning slowly with smoke but no flames, and current air quality models do not provide accurate guidance on this matter. Using an air quality sensor, Neyestani wants to quantify the difference in emission levels during the two phases.
“There are assumptions that 50% of emissions come from smoldering, but every fire is different. Our main objective is to improve the accuracy of air-quality forecasting,” Neyestani said, noting his concern that these assumptions might not be realistic.
Although the field day was created with the students in mind, Carmignani used the opportunity to polish his own research efforts. Since fall 2022, he has been investigating the flammability of low-water use landscape plants based on various irrigation applications.
“Every time we burn, I feel like we get better. We get better data, and we conduct better analysis, and that's really important for us so that we can figure out how we can apply our research and measure its outcome,” said Carmignani.
In addition to welcoming more collaborations with UC campuses and other organizations, Carmignani is hopeful that these combined research efforts will spark an interest in wildfire awareness everywhere.