CZU Lightning Fire Complex – Our Experience and Gratitude.

Tuesday, August 18: The CZU Lightning Complex fire erupts into a firestorm. TomKat Ranch hills and pastures in the foreground. Photo: Annie Fresquez.

The swiftness and destructive power of a catastrophic wildfire is staggering.

What started out as flashes of lightning and small columns of wispy smoke on our horizon quickly blew up into an inferno. Within 48 hours of ignition, the CZU August Lightning Fire Complex threatened our town of Pescadero and other communities along the coast. For many long and frightening days, we and our neighbors scrambled to relocate livestock, cut fire breaks, and evacuate our homes.

As we write this, TomKat Ranch and most of Pescadero has luckily been spared from the fire, but many friends and neighbors in our region have tragically lost homes and businesses. Heartbreakingly, fire season is just beginning and already we have record numbers of fires growing throughout the state.

We are incredibly grateful to the amazing people and organizations that have stepped up to help our community: the firefighters of Cal Fire and the Loma Mar Fire Department, generous neighbors who donated time and resources like Duarte’s Tavern and Loma Mar Store, and local organizations like Puente de La Costa Sur and the San Mateo County Resource Conservation District, San Mateo Large Animal Evacuation, Ember Ridge Equestrian Center and many others who have tirelessly worked to save people, animals, and property, and prepare our region for recovery. State-wide, we’ve seen so many jump in to help as well. Below is a short list of the many available resources we’ve found to support those who are affected by the fires or who want to lend a hand and help with recovery and prevention.

2020 FIRE EDUCATION AND RELIEF RESOURCES:

Education

Resource Conservation District (RCD) of Santa Cruz Events

Relief Efforts

Donate

Some of the evacuated TomKat Ranch horses in their temporary accommodations. Photo: Stacy Claitor

While the amazing responses to this disaster in our community and state are inspiring, disasters on this scale do not need to be the norm. Historically, fire was a beneficial part of the ecosystem in California. Native people used fire to regeneratively manage landscapes for centuries. In recent history, however, development, land management practices, and restrictions on prescribed burning coupled with changing climatic conditions such as recurring drought conditions, intense heat waves, and increased lightning strikes have created an incredibly dangerous situation where fire becomes a threat instead of an ally. 

This destructive situation needs to change. In addition to continuing to mitigate the effects of climate change through reducing greenhouse gas emissions and re-sequestering greenhouse gasses through practices like regenerative agriculture, we must rediscover how to safely live through and even benefit from fire’s impacts. 

At TomKat Ranch, we have long been aware of the importance of fire in caring for our Mediterranean-type ecosystems. Within this context, prescribed burns have multiple potential benefits, including reducing catastrophic wildfire risk (and the associated large scale soil carbon loss) through reducing fuel build-up, improving habitat for wildlife and plants that depend on fire disturbance (including fire-dependent rare/endangered species), and providing non-chemical alternatives for managing invasive or noxious weeds. Prescribed burns can also improve grasslands for livestock and wildlife by improving near-term nutrient cycling, reducing woody species encroachment and creating open, contiguous grassland habitat for grassland obligate species such as Grasshopper Sparrows, badgers, and Burrowing Owls.

As the Bay Area has grown more populated, even carefully planned burns have been restricted. To carefully explore how to recapture fire’s benefits, we have begun a collaboration with CalFIRE and Point Blue Conservation Science to create a dynamic fire management plan and look into the feasibility and safety of bringing prescribed burning back to our land as it has been practiced by indigenous people for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. It is our hope that in addition to expanding the regenerative toolbox at TomKat Ranch, this project can also contribute to the work many of our partner organizations have been doing based on previous fires in our state to help others to do the same.

To learn more about this collaboration, please read our Fire Management and Prescribed Burns at TomKat Ranch.