“The Monument” Prescribed Burn in Henry W. Coe State Park

By Mason Hyland

On November 19th 2015, California State Parks staff and Cal Fire, performed a long anticipated prescribed burn in Henry W. Coe State Park (SP). The 630-acre plot where ignition took place is aptly named the “Monument Plot” for the monument to Henry Coe that lies within the fire lines. The plot lies on the top of Pine Ridge, and extends down one slope into the drainage of the little fork of Coyote Creek. The landscape is diverse, spanning grasslands, oak woodlands, mixed pine oak forests, and stands of towering Ponderosa pines.

It is difficult to understate the importance of prescribed fire. Though many see fire as destructive, it is an irreplaceable and inevitable component in most ecosystems throughout California. Fire is a naturally occurring phenomenon that has been prevalent ever since plant communities have been significant enough to support fire. Almost every plant community in California is adapted to fire in some way, at some interval. The two main goals of any prescribed fire are to enact this ecological process, and to do so in a timed and controlled manner to help prevent uncontrolled wildfires.

A prescribed fire is exactly that: a proposed fire that has a prescription – a set of parameters for environmental conditions under which the behavior of the fire will meet the objectives of the burn.  Wind speed, relative humidity, air temperature, fuel moisture, precipitation, and atmospheric conditions all need to be within a certain range so that the fire behavior will safely obtain the desired results, and the output of smoke is properly managed. If any one of these conditions is outside of the parameters set in the prescription, either before or during the burn, ignition is halted.

All personnel helping with the Monument Burn staged in the overflow lot at Henry W. Coe SP Headquarters early Thursday morning. This included burn team members from the Santa Cruz and Monterey District, CalFire, San Jose City Fire, and two fire weather researchers from San Jose State University. After the briefing of the Incident Action Plan, crews and engines were separated into their division assignments along the fire line. A division chief yelled out “fire on the ground!” and the coordinated ignition operation began. Ignitions continued throughout the day, and the operation was completed without incident as the sun was setting behind rising smoke.

Monument Burn Nov 2015 015

 

The fire burned into the night, with the Monterey District engine, and a single CalFire engine patrolling the fire line. As the night time winds increased, the fire intensity was much higher than it had been during ignition. Flanking lines of fire crisscrossed the ridges, while flaring trees lit up the plot. With the help of high humidity, the two engines worked into the night, and maintained the fire inside the lines.

Though the fire continued to slowly burn through duff and logs, the trails were re-opened on Saturday, November 21st. Tuesday the 24th brought .34 inches of rain, putting most of the fire to rest. Of the 630 acres encompassed by the fire lines, an estimated 300 acres were consumed. The fire burned in the idyllic mosaic pattern that is often desired during any fire event. Some areas were untouched; some areas were completely consumed. Space was made for new growth in the ever crowded real estate market that is the natural landscape.  A necessary natural ecological process was played out. And it was played out safely, in a timed and organized fashion, thanks to the collaboration of the Monterey and Santa Cruz District burn crews, CalFire, San Jose City Fire, the Bay Area Air Quality District, and fire researchers.

 

 

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