Chimney Sweep

One yr after devastating hearth, burned wreckage cleared, rebuilding planning simply beginning – Santa Cruz Sentinel

A year after a massive forest fire devastated California’s oldest state park, Big Basin Redwoods, the cleanup is in full swing.

Over the past few weeks, construction workers in hard hats have been cleaning up the debris of all the burned buildings and charred vehicles in popular Santa Cruz Mountains Park – from the bent metal and blackened granite of the park’s headquarters from the 1930s to the broken glass and broken propane tank inside its popular museum and once busy campsites.

More than 3,300 charred trees, mostly Douglas fir, that threatened to topple along the winding 6-mile driveway of Big Basin, were felled and hauled away. Burned out power lines were dismantled and destroyed wooden bridges replaced.

Almost every one of the Big Basin’s famous ancient sequoia trees, which can grow up to 90 meters tall and are 2,000 years old, survived, biologists say, although many have burn scars on their trunks or scorched branches that will last for decades.

“It was remarkable how much work was done in the park. I’m confident about the future, ”said Chris Spohrer, superintendent of the Santa Cruz District of the state park. “Every time I go in there are more green sprouts.”

Others who have worked to restore the park agree.

State parks, CalOES and contractors are reviewing the protection of the culture and natural resources at the Old Lodge site, where the stone fireplace and chimney will remain. (Courtesy California State Parks)

“There is a lot of sunlight. It’s warmer and drier than before. But the landscape doesn’t look so wounded. Green is everywhere, ”said Sara Barth, managing director of the Sempervirens Fund, a Los Altos nonprofit group that has bought and protected 35,000 acres of sequoia forests in the Santa Cruz Mountains since 1900. “It’s surprising how much better it looks with the ruins and infrastructure gone. It’s peaceful again. You hear birds. It feels better and looks better than it was. “

But it will be a while before visitors are allowed to return to the park.

State park officials this week launched a new website at to track the progress of the rebuilding.

Spohrer said public meetings to plan the rebuilding of the parks will begin in two or three months. The planning process will take about a year, he said.

After that, it could take another two or three years for the large buildings to be rebuilt, he said. At some point along the way, the redwood portion of the park will be partially reopened to the public, possibly with guided tours.

“After we have made the main access roads safe, the question arises of how much effort it takes to make the paths safe,” said Spohrer. “I have no estimate.”

The crews have already removed more than 15,000 trees that have fallen, fallen, or threatened to fall in popular areas including campsites and access roads that rangers use to access the Big Basin hinterland. Almost all of them were Douglas firs, brown oaks, madrons, and other trees that are not as fire resistant as sequoias.

Amazingly, some trees still burn for a year after the fire.

For months after the fire, the crews put out small fires that were ignited by winds blowing up the roots of some trees that were still red-hot. More recently, said Spohrer, embers have been found in the crowns of the old sequoias that are still glowing.

California state park crews are installing a makeshift bridge on May 1, 2021 to replace a wooden bridge that burned in the CZU Lightning Complex Fire in August 2020. (Photo: California State Parks)

The fire that devastated the Big Basin was the worst in the history of the region. Triggered by multiple lightning strikes on August 16, 2020, the fire, the CZU Lightning Complex Fire, burned 86,509 acres in the rural districts of Santa Cruz and San Mateo, an area almost three times the size of the city of San Francisco.

Flames destroyed 1,490 buildings, making it the twelfth most devastating fire in the state’s history and a disaster that caused more damage to the Santa Cruz district than the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

In total, 97% of the Big Basin’s 18,000 acres were burned.

But Big Basin isn’t just any state park. Its landscape of giant trees, thick ferns, waterfalls, misty forests, ranger chats, scouting jamborees, and marshmallow roasts has been central to generations of families since the park was founded in 1902. That year, San Jose photographer Andrew P. Hill convinced California lawmakers to Buy the Old Trees northwest of Boulder Creek because lumberjacks turned the nearby old forests into fence posts and railroad ties.

“These trees, because of their size and age, were among the natural wonders of the world and should be saved for posterity,” Hill wrote in his memoir.

Rebuilding the Big Basin after the fire started slowly. But after reporting and attention from environmental groups and political leaders, Governor Gavin Newsom has included in his revised May budget the entire $ 186 million that park officials estimate will go towards rebuilding the campsites, visitor center, utilities, bridges, the Hiking trails and other facilities are required.

The new facilities are unlikely to be rebuilt in the same places as the old ones. Shops, parking lots, and other buildings were built on the root systems of some ancient trees a century ago. Rangers who evacuated more than 1,000 visitors during the fire are skeptical of an increased risk of fire in the coming decades.

Some new facilities could be built outside of the park, perhaps in Saddle Mountain or Little Basin a few miles southeast. Buildings are made of more refractory materials. An outdoor parking lot and a shuttle bus system can be created for the busiest weekends.

“In our view, protecting the redwood forest and enjoying it for people needs to – those things don’t have to conflict,” said Sam Hodder, president of the Save the Redwoods League in San Francisco. “Here there is an opportunity for us to find a better balance between the natural ecosystem and the experience of the public.”

The campfire amphitheater in Big Basin Redwoods State Park on the 30th. (Photo: California State Parks)

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