This is the best book available that describes in detail California's most extensive plant community, the chaparral! The book not only provides the basics of chaparral natural history, but also how wildfires are fought, what we have learned about them, and why it is important to reconnect with one's surroundings.The new Second Edition includes:
1. A new 16 page introduction chapter entitled "Becoming a Chaparralian." This chapter provides new perspectives on fire and the important role chaparral and nature can play in creating a better world.
2. Using lessons learned during the 2007 Southern California wildfires, Chapter 4 has been updated to better explain why it is so important to examine the entire fire environment rather than just focusing on vegetation.
3. A thoroughly updated review on what to do after a fire with a new contribution by Mike Evans, co-owner of the Tree of Life native plant nursery.
4. All photographs have been rescanned to bring out their true, vivid colors.
5. A number of bright, new photographs in both the landscape and species identification sections.
6. Two new detailed fire perimeter maps for Southern California that show all the fires in the region since 1900, including the 2007 fires.
7. A remarkable new photograph of one of the most beautiful creatures ever to fly within the chaparral.
Fire, Chaparral, and Survival in Southern California is an essential book for anyone living in California because it explains why it is important to understand the region's natural environment as well as how best to prepare for the next wildfire. Reference: Halsey, R.W. 2008. Fire, Chaparral, and Survival in Southern California. Second Edition. Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, California. 232 p.
P.S. There weren't a alot of corrections to the first edition (2005) ofFire, Chaparral and Survival in Southern California, but, alas, despite our best efforts a few typos slipped through. We fixed these in the second edition, but in the event you want to correct the first, here's the list.
FIRE, CHAPARRAL, AND SURVIVAL IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA by Richard W. Halsey
Second Edition, Revised and Updated Sunbelt Publications, San Diego. 2008. 232 pages, illustrated, color plates.
Reviewed by Walter Hall
“The Viejas fire in ’01, the Galivan fire in ’02, and then again during the Cedar fire in ’03. It’s always the same damn thing.”A weary incident commander back on the fire line.
It is fire season. And with it, the specter of a firestorm again hovers over the West. The flames will come – only the where and the when are unknown. For that reason alone, this guide to survival deserves a space on the bookshelf of every Southland family.
Reader friendly, absorbing and of immediate utility for East County residents, the book resists easy classification. It is at once a field guide to chaparral habitat, a platform for more enlightened wildlands and wildfire management and a homeowner’s guide to greater security from the fires that, with distressing regularity, paint large expanses of the golden state with ash.
A noted San Diego biologist, award-winning teacher and favorite lecturer at the Natural History Museum in Balboa Park, Rick Halsey brings three decades of study and field research to his subject. An experienced wildland firefighter himself, the author consults with many regional law enforcement, environmental and land management agencies. With that résumé, he is uniquely prepared to interpret both what happens when fire sweeps the hills and what ought not to happen when the public policy brouhahas erupt before the embers are cold. (For Halsey’s continuing work on chaparral visit www.californiachaparral.org)
Halsey weaves his story from many threads – allowing each its own voice. This was a wise decision. The book’s 21 contributors lend expertise, human interest and narrative energy. The combination infuses the text with authenticity. The first-hand accounts of an able roster of scientists, emergency crewmembers, wildlands residents and eye witnesses to tragedy bring much-needed clarity to complex and thorny questions in natural history and public safety administration.
The adhesive that binds all this together is Halsey’s vision for a different way into our common future. His message is simple, but eloquent: “A thorough and honest understanding of natural history is crucial if we want to preserve the quality of life we enjoy today.” The prerequisite for such understanding is a greater number of fire literate citizens. This book is designed to be their primer. Along the way, Halsey and his contributors engage and effectively debunk a number of prevalent myths about wildland fires. Marshalling his evidence, Halsey argues that chaparral is not adapted for fire, per se, nor is it a fire-dependent natural system; old-growth chaparral is a healthy, dynamic environment and is not choking San Diego hillsides with “overgrown” brush; fire suppression over the years has not led to an “unnatural” accumulation of chaparral, fueling ever larger fires; and wildland fires can not be extinguished by aerial drops of water or fire retardant alone. These findings should make their way into public awareness and subsequent debate on fire safety policies.
Readers familiar with the first edition will wonder what’s new here. Actually, quite a lot. The revisions and additions are well worth a look. Among the most notable are a new 16-page introductory essay addressing questions such as “Why do homes burn?” The updates to Chapter 4 enhance the “Getting Ready” story with lessons learned from the region’s devastating fires in 2007. A new contribution from Mike Evans of the Tree of Life native plant nursery gives the “What to do after a fire” chapter a wholly different perspective, while the vivid new end covers provide detailed perimeter maps showing all the fires in Southern California, from 1900 through 2007. Throughout, the updated text benefits from an array of helpful new ink illustrations, complemented by a selection of full color plates.
All of that makes this edition the most thorough and most accessible book currently available on California’s most extensive wildlands habitat, the chaparral. More importantly, it is a levelheaded guide to living with and within that habitat. East County residents – and others who drive east on 8, west on 52, or north on 15 – will not look out over the chaparral-cloaked hills in quite the same way again. Nor are they likely to be indifferent to the parched and weedy grasslands that have replaced chaparral in all too many places.
Last year, Sunbelt Publications garnered best-in-class recognition at the San Diego Book Awards for this book. Rightly so. The production values are high, the color plates sharp and the text is loaded with consequence. Second District Supervisor Diane Jacobs recently noted that the County, all local jurisdictions combined, spends about $450 million annually on structural fire protection and emergency services. Wildfire is a perennial issue that touches every resident in the County.
This is a reflective book, some passages recall the work of Muir, Aldo Leopold and other American pathfinders. The author’s deep connection with the wildlands informs every page. But it is also an unmistakable call to action. Halsey’s ultimate concerns are for the safety of our citizens – and especially those we ask to go into harm’s way when disaster strikes - and for the integrity of Southern California’s frequently misunderstood environment.
The passion in Halsey’s message comes from the increasing frequency of Southland fires in recent years as well as our often ham-fisted response to them. The double-punch makes the recovery of native chaparral habitats ever harder. We are only beginning to comprehend the multiple long-term consequences of the loss. Halsey proposes a fundamental shift in how we think about our relationship to the land we live in. Instead of mastering or subduing the natural landscape, the emphasis would be better placed on fireproofing those communities perched on the intersection of urban and wild landscapes. An approach that stresses living with, rather than imposing upon, nature’s timeless cycles would be less expensive, more sustainable over time and far less likely to end in tragedy.
Such a shift is not beyond our grasp. The urgency of it is telegraphed in chapter or section headings such as “Getting ready for the next one.” Halsey distills the essentials into a wildlands fire safety triad: greater wisdom (and restraint) in selecting locations for building; designs appropriate to the level of risk; and maintenance of survivable or defensible space. By addressing theses challenges from the house outward, instead of inward from the hillside, Halsey recasts both our thinking and our priorities.
Despite the sensational aspects of his topic, Halsey is not an alarmist. Nor does he dwell on the disheartening stories, such as the fate of San Diego’s vanishing vernal pools. Admirably, he steers well clear of pessimism. Instead, he has given us a concerned, but still hopeful book. If we just take the time, he seems to say, we can get this relationship right. Why not do that?
Read this book; share it with family, neighbors and friends - so that next time, and Halsey’s contributors all make it clear that there will be a next time, it won’t be “the same damn thing.”
Walter Hall is the pseudonym of a La Mesa-based national security analyst and defense strategist, with experience in interagency emergency planning.
The intrinsic feature about rediscovering the wildness within is its simplicity and accessibility. Following the teachings of a modern day philosopher is redundant because the knowledge lies within your own mind. A distant trip to some far off place is unnecessary. As long as you can find a natural place uninterrupted by the rumblings of civilization, the location of one’s inspiration is unimportant. For those of us in southern California, the most common natural community is the chaparral. Like a coastal tide pool, desert, and forest, the chaparral has a unique collection of plant and animal populations intimately connected to their environment and each other. If given the opportunity, thesemissionaries from nature are willing teachers to help us reconnect with the wildness within. By watching them, distinguishing differences between each group, and learning the patterns they display, our senses become attuned again to the rhythms of nature; we become naturalists.
As naturalists, our mental gyroscopes attain a new balance that incorporates an understanding of life beyond the confines of human society and reconnects with the wilderness, our original home. After finding our way back, we are grounded again and are able to build the resiliency required to thrive within the outside world of civilization; for indeed, civilization remains an alien place for the progeny of ancient naturalists. However, repudiation of society is unnecessary to return home. All that is required is an appreciation of what the natural world can offer as our true domicile. When describing his own love of wilderness, John Muir made it clear that it, “was no solemn abjuration of the world”, but rather, “I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
Because of its density, uniform cover and nonexistent understory of herbaceous plants, the diversity of chaparral animal life is low when compared to a forest ecosystem. However, the animals that do call the chaparral their home are an interesting assortment of highly territorial survivors.
There are two in particular that a shrubland visitor will invariably notice, the sparrow-sized wrentit and the big-eared woodrat.
The wrentit (Chamaea fasciata) is one of the most homebound bird species in North America, restricting its movement to less than two acres (Fig. 1-11). Despite being visually secretive, both male and females sing all year round allowing their location to be pinpointed by sound, a descending whistle having the beat of bouncing ping-pong ball. Rarely is a mated pair found apart unless finding food for their young. At night the female sits in the nest and the male sleeps alone on a nearby perch. His call is often the last bird sound heard across the chaparral at dusk. When the offspring finally leave their nest, the parents once again share the evening roost. They snuggle up so tightly that it is difficult to distinguish two birds amongst the bundle of feathers...
Matilija Poppy (Romneya trichocalyx) in bloom
Do the amber colored leaves traditionally decorating the walls inside elementary classrooms accurately reflect what is happening outside during the months of autumn? Is fall really a time of red maple leaves and hibernation? Not in southern California. Since drought, not freezing snow determines our seasons, the transition from one to the other is more subtle. And with help from the garden hose and sprinklers, suburban dwellers can live in a green, springtime setting all year. But out in the chaparral, seasonal changes continue to pace the rhythm of life; a mediterranean melody with three notes instead of four; fall, spring, and six or more long months of drought.
Fall is subtle, lasting only a few short weeks in June, punctuating spring and drought. Marked by a brief yellowing of the hillsides as some of the leaves on shrubs like ceanothusand manzanita are discarded, fall prepares the chaparral for long months of desiccation ahead; scarcity of water demands conservation and springtime foliage becomes a liability by releasing too much moisture. Although autumn in the chaparral is more of a short interlude than a full season, it remains a critical component of the system’s life cycle. By mid-July, drought has settled in; growth slows to a crawl, cicadas buzz in the heat, and ceanothus seed capsules snap open in the dry air.
Usually in November, just when it seems as if life is about to shrivel up and disappear from lack of water, a hint of moisture arrives. The ground stays damp longer in the morning from lingering night time dew. Serious clouds begin to form. Finally, the first concentrated delivery of rain arrives and quenches the shrubland’s thirst. “Spring” has arrived. The traditional winter months become part of the chaparral’s season of growth.
So while much of the country is preparing for cold, the chaparral is emerging from its defensive posture. Bright green fingers of wild cucumber vines (Marah macrocarpus) crawl upon the ground, searching for something to grasp. Creamy bushrue flowers (Cneoridium dumosum), California’s own native citrus, create clumps of contrast to olivaceous hillsides. Ceanothus buds begin to swell, and will soon powder the chaparral with white or azure blossoms. Perhaps, instead of snowflakes and holly leaves, southern California classrooms in December should be decorated with boughs of red-berried toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), scrub oak acorns, and sprigs of fragrant white sage (Salvia apiana). Such native decorations would be an excellent way to strengthen the connection children already have for nature and may help reawaken the same in the adults around them. One wonders how different the American view of the natural world would be if the Pilgrims had landed in San Pedro Bay instead of Plymouth...
HOW WE FIGHT BRUSH FIRES
“The Viejas fire in 01, the Gavilan fire in 02 and then again during the Cedar fire in 03. It’s always the same damn thing.”
Jim Hart, a veteran firefighter in San Diego County, leaned against his truck and shook his head. Soot was buried deeply into his skin and a cigarette hung from his hand like an old bandaged finger. He was taking a break after spending all night trying to keep his firefighters alive. He was one of the incident commanders coordinating suppression efforts on a fire raging in the local foothills. “The media, the politicians, they blame the fire service and lack of aircraft for the loss of homes. Every time. People don’t have a clue how fires are fought. They think if they’ve tended a campfire or watched brushfires from a lawn chair, they’re instant experts. Right.”
He looked at me with blood-shot, squinted eyes and took a long drag off his cigarette. I’d have liked to think he was just trying to imitate some Clint Eastwood character, but I could tell he really didn’t like me very much. I’m one of those reporters, one of those media people. I was there to interview him for a story I was writing. It wasn’t starting out very well.
Hart’s radio crackled some indecipherable emergency personnel speak the same time his cell phone started ringing. I stood there pretending to be occupied with my note pad.
“How old are you?” he barked after snapping his phone shut.
“Look, lets go sit down.”
We went over an area with picnic tables, or table. The others had burned the night before. Hart held his two hands up, joining them together by touching his thumbs and first fingers at their tips to form a triangle. “See this. It’s a triangle.” He stared at me waiting for some sheepish grin on my behalf. I didn’t. “First of all, you need to understand the basics about why fires behave the way they do. The Fire Triangle is one of the first things a young firefighter is exposed to in training for fighting chaparral fires. Most of my early training was related to understanding this kind of stuff, like depriving a fire of fuel by building fireline, or depriving it of oxygen by throwing dirt on it.”
“Yeah, I remember that in grade school. The fire department came over and taught us all that: fuel, oxygen, and heat. Deprive the fire any one of these and it can’t burn.” I felt somewhat excited about the memory, but Hart ignored my enthusiasm...
RETHINKING HOW WE LIVE WITH FIRE
Fire has been an important and necessary ecological process in much of California for many thousands of years, and it will remain so. Wildfires, like other natural hazards on the landscapes we inhabit, are therefore phenomena we must learn to live with. After decades of suppressing wildfires, we now struggle to reintroduce them safely. At the most basic level, however, the current “fire problem” exists primarily because we have developed in ways and in locations that are vulnerable to this natural hazard. Fortunately, we have learned enough about floods and earthquakes to start incorporating them into our building guidelines and our urban planning. Unfortunately, we have been slow in making that leap with wildfire. Long-term droughts and changing climates appear even farther off in our collective consciousness, but they too may need to be accommodated eventually. Right now, we need to rethink how we live with fire.
Research about fire behavior and natural fire regimes should provide useful information for policy and management decisions. That linkage is part of what makes this line of work interesting. Research questions and findings, however, are typically put in terms of hypotheses and probabilities. Many scientists approach complex systems in terms of gradients and correlations and mechanisms. These concepts and terms are not always easy for the rest of the world to use in making decisions, but they are necessary for scientific work. In contrast, most people try to understand a situation or problem by categorizing things, by putting names on recognizable patterns or associations. In this attempt to reduce and classify, we often end up with simple models of how the world works. We tend toward discrete and “binary” choices (e.g., right versus wrong, us versus them), and we want one-size-fits-all solutions to our problems...