Out of the Flames

by on July 01, 2005

 
 

 

The manifold wilderness of Point Reyes—from the waves breaking on its unspoiled beaches to the raptors circling its fog-swept forests—embodies much of what we love about the natural world. With its southern tip a mere 20 miles from the Golden Gate, this vast, diverse, yet accessible natural sanctuary offers an easy escape from the mundane and urbane for 2.4 million visitors per year.

Ten years ago, in October 1995, an epic wildfire scorched 12,000 acres of the park and consumed 45 homes on nearby Inverness Ridge. Miraculously, no one was killed in the weeklong Vision Fire (so called for its origin near the summit of Mount Vision), but the blaze sent chills down the spines of people around the region, who feared for the health and survival of a favorite local treasure.

The perspective of a decade brings new understanding. The Vision Fire burned in a region that is wild but not remote, affording scientists an unprecedented opportunity to study the complexities of the landscape’s response to a massive burn. Meanwhile, open space districts and fire professionals took on the challenge of rethinking strategies for protection of human communities situated at the “wildland-urban interface,” yet another stage in the evolving and continuing relationship between people and wildland fires in a flammable landscape. Different habitats and communities respond to flame in different ways, but today all the former burn zones look lush and healthy, a testament to fire’s ancient regime of creation, destruction, and transformation.

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