Hiking Through Fire and Flood

by admin on February 14, 2010

The view from our corner. Click to enlarge

Last September, the Station Fire took its sweet time devouring just about every ounce of fuel in the Angeles National Forest.

The lazy, inexorable creep of smoke and flame lasted for more than 3 weeks and came within a few blocks of my house in La Crescenta, California.

Spitting distance from our home in La Crescenta, CA. Click to enlarge

We were just outside of the evacuation zone and I never felt in any real danger … even when the flames came within spitting distance of our quiet mountain neighborhood.
The Station Fire took at least 2 lives, roared through more than a dozen homes and devastated more wild land than any other fire in the history of southern California.  For me personally, the fire completely destroyed the idyllic trails of the Angeles I know and love.  It was more than a month before I could bring myself to hike up into the forest and see for myself what one idiot with a taste for arson had wrought.   Here are some photos from that first trip back up the Haines Canyon fire road.

Walking the trail after Station Fire. Click to enlarge

The trail was so ashy, it was like a permanent fog … you can barely see a fellow hiker on the trail.

There seems to be nothing left... Click to enlarge

To say there was nothing left is an understatement.

It is as if there is nothing alive. Click to enlarge

As far as the eye could see, nearly all signs of life were gone.  There was a disturbing smell of barbecued meat and I purposefully didn’t look down into the ravines where I knew many animals had been trapped and died.

My beloved Maisie on trail after Station Fire. Click to enlarge

My wonderfully fluffy Corgi, Maisie, has been my faithful hiking companion for 2 years now.  Her smiling face helped make the trip into the devastation a little easier but you can see how ashy she got.  Of course being so low to the ground didn’t help much.

New Life - Yerba Santa -- the "sacred herb" -- returns... Click to enlarge

I didn’t go back up into the forest again until December when a few light soaking showers dampened the ash and gave the nascent plant life a chance to wake up.
I saw that things weren’t quite as dead as I thought.  The yerba santa were among the first plants to return.

The oaks had new growth. Click to enlarge

The oaks had new growth.  Some of the sycamores were sending out side shoots.  Natives were starting to come back.

The largest fire in Southern California history cannot kill the hearty Yucca. Click to enlarge

And then there was this …
Out of the charred black pineapple of a burned yucca … a glorious 10-foot high flower.
The yucca was speaking to me … “Fire be damned!  I will LIVE.  I will FLOWER.”

Maisie Michaels: Happy Dog... Click to enlarge

Since then, Maisie and I have hiked up in “our” mountains a lot and each time more and more life springs up.

Debris being moved away. Click to enlarge

Just this past week, we hiked up to see what the torrential rains had done to our trails.  The first thing we noticed of course was a mountain of silt and rock that had been dredged out of our debris basin and was being loaded into a steady stream of dump trucks.


In this majestic pose, Maisie is channeling her Welsh roots methinks. Click to enlarge

But once we got up past the forest service gate, we were delighted to see how GREEN everything was and how many different shades of green there were.
Out of the ash and char, the first wildflowers are up … surprisingly juicy lupines.

Lupine - BEFORE. Click to enlarge

Lupine - AFTER. Click to enlarge

But the same mud flows that had made their way into some unprotected La Canada and La Crescenta backyards were in evidence in Haines Canyon too.

At the first washout where the fire road came to a screeching halt, we found the US Geological Survey had beaten us to the trail.

The road BEFORE the rains... Click to enlarge

The trail didn’t get any better after that.  Here’s the trail before the rains.

The road AFTER the rains: GONE! Click to enlarge

And here’s nearly the same spot after the rains.

The wash is completely FILLED. Click to enlarge

A little farther up, just past the oak grove (as you can see in the 2 before and after photos above), the wash where Maisie used to get a drink of fresh water is now completely filled in with dirt and silt and rock.
This is where the trail ends for now.  Beyond this wash, the trail rises sharply uphill and doesn’t seem like a very safe place to be.
Hmm… Maybe next week.

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