Humans and Exotic Grasses that Grow Following Fires Prove to be Dangerous Mix, Expert Says | KCET
Humans and Exotic Grasses that Grow Following Fires Prove to be Dangerous Mix, Expert Says
For Alexandra Syphon, wildfire is all about what fuels it. The chief scientist at Sage Underwriters, a homeowner’s insurance company, studies wildfire, how it relates to human land-use patterns, the climate and vegetation.
“Northern California forested ecosystems are really different than Southern California non-forested chaparral,” Syphon said. “Fires are inherently different, and the management issues and the ecological issues are all concurrently different.”
As state officials allocate millions of dollars for forest cleanup and other efforts to prevent devastating wildfires like in Paradise and near Yosemite National Park in Northern California, and the Woolsey blaze in Malibu and Thousand Oaks, Syphon studies landscape, wind patterns, terrain and climate to do her part. She also pays attention to what humans do. “A fire obviously needs an ignition to start,” Syphon said. “Southern California has very little lightning ignition. We are burning here in Southern California much more than we ever did because humans caused most of the fires, and there are obviously a lot of humans in Southern California that are starting fires.”
In Southern California, dry herbaceous exotic grasses are highly flammable and it doesn’t take much to set them ablaze, Syphon said. Wind and how long it takes for first responders to arrive makes the difference in whether a fire gets out of control.
While all of that is obvious, the problem is scrub lands are becoming grasslands, increasing the odds of a fire chance. Scrub, which relies on fire to germinate, can require up to two decades to recover and reseed and area. If a fire rolls through before it can, the scrub brush cannot recover and dies. Exotic grasses, which burn quicker and easier, “colonize very readily,” Syphon said. “They seem to be everywhere,” she said. “If a shrub is not able to recover, the grasslands come in and establish and eventually you can have a process of converting from native shrubs to grasslands….
“And what can make this even worse is that the grasslands are highly flammable. They may actually increase the fire frequency that can further increase this process of the shrubland being eliminated and the grasses continuing to spread.” Those young grasses invite fire to come through, further eliminating the natural scrub. “I’ve been studying these mountains for a long time and I’m concerned about them,” she said. “Seventy-five percent of the Santa Monica Mountains has just burned and the other part of it burned a few years ago in the Spring fire. The entire landscape is young vegetation right now…You get a few more fires and there’s a really good chance that we might lose some of our natural heritage, which is the vegetation.”
Just weeks after the Woolsey fire, Malibu Canyon already is sprouting exotic grasses where bright evergreen chaparral used to grow, Syphon said.
When the grass dries out during the hot summer, ready for the Fall’s Santa Ana winds, they become fuel for embers, she said. “As humans continue to develop into wildland areas, you’re taking fires and potentially starting them in areas that may not have otherwise burned,” Syphon said. Humans have taken steps, she said, to improve the building materials used in the construction of homes in developments that encroach on open space, even when they create “defensible spaces” around them, she said.
“What I worry about sometimes is people have a false sense of security,” Syphon said. Putting a development into a wildland area, “particularly if it is surrounded by a lot of wildland,” exposes it to danger, especially when humans are added, Syphon said. “Just simply by the nature of human-caused ignitions and the landscape that we have here that’s highly flammable,” she said, “you’re increasing the chance that a fire is going to start, just because there are more people out there in the landscape.”
Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and eight other people, including one of Bryant's daughters, were killed today when a helicopter crashed along a hillside in Calabasas. Bryant was 41.
Enter to win tickets to the LA Art Show, running from February 5-9.
Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was ordered today to turn himself in no later than Feb. 5 to begin serving a three-year federal prison sentence for obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI.
A proposal to declare a climate emergency in Alaska has brought up long-running tensions over development and conservation among the groups that advocate on behalf of Alaska’s Indigenous people.
- 1 of 232
- next ›
State and local regulators are overwhelmed and outgunned when it comes to closing down California’s poisonous pot pipeline.
Parents are willing to spend thousands to get the competitive edge in the college admissions process, but at what cost? Socal Connected takes a revealing look at the high stakes world of the for-profit education consultant business.
Socal Connected looks at what happened to LA Jets’ Obea Moore and the current state of youth track and field today.
An investigation reveals how the state and many cities have let developers get away for decades with not paying their fair share when they replace affordable lodging with luxury hotels up and down California’s coast.
A Humboldt town is polarized over allegations of racism and police incompetence surrounding the death of college student Josiah Lawson.
- 1 of 53
- next ›