2020 fire season on the west coast has been… rough.

Looking at the map of active fires in September is physically painful. Last year I walked the entire Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. Many miles I passed through have burnt. Zooming in on hotspots trigger visceral memories. Feels like I’m back there, but can picture it burning around me.

It’s strange how looking at such simplified representation, like a map, can transport you back to a moment so clearly. Activates the mind in a different way when you move through environment at a pace native to your biology for long durations.

Unlocks deep evolutionary memory palace type shit.

These fires are so extreme partly because of poor forest management. Nicola wrote for the New Yorker about the problematics of forest management near Tahoe in the northern Sierra. I walked through the same area on the Pacific Crest Trail, around two months into the hike.

The signs for “Experimental Forest” made me laugh.

Healthy forests need to burn regularly. It reduces the amount of deadfall on the forest floor, and burns small enough to not damage healthy mature trees. But when fires are prevented, too much dead stuff accumulates, creating super extreme conditions that kill everything else.

Oh yeah, and we shouldn’t put a ton of shit into the atmosphere. This should be obvious.

My friend Alex made a film about the 2015 Mountain Fire on San Jacinto. He snuck onto a hotshot crew and followed them around for a few days before being noticed, then assembled the rest of the film with found footage.

Four years later I walked through the burn scar on the Pacific Crest Trail. It was the first year that section had been re-opened. Even after that much time it was still pretty barren.

2 days later

At the front of my mind right now is the Bobcat fire, burning in the San Gabriels in Los Angeles. The smoke has been rough the past week, with the poorest air quality Los Angeles has seen in decades.

More selfishly, it’s burning in one of my favorite areas to hike in the San Gabriels, near Islip Saddle. Fortunately it looks like they’ve prevented it from jumping the 2 and hitting places like Mount Williamson and Pleasant View Ridge.

It’s also threatening the Mount Wilson Observatory, a really special place to me. I pull up the camera often, a little escape if I’m stuck in front of a screen. Jon wrote about it a while ago. It’s also where Edwin Hubble did his research. When I was a kid I could not get enough of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Hopeful it makes it through. If it doesn’t 2020 really is shit. Keeping an eye on it via these sources:

17 days later

Fortunately the fire worked its way around the observatory. Looked like it took a lot of effort. Spent way too much time watching the cams.

Looks like it got out to Islip Saddle and Mount Williamson — two favorites. Hoping the intensity wasn’t too bad, and the burn stuck mostly to dry brush down low. All the National Forests in CA are closed indefinitely due to sustained risk. Will have to wait it out to head back out there and see how it handled.

Situation up in the Sierra still remains rough. California also reached it’s first million acre fire. Not so much the scale which is unfortunate—historically much more has burns in a healthy ecosystem—but the intensity and years of mis-management.

a month later

This video by the LA Times shows some of the damage near the West Fork. They talk about the endangered yellow-legged frog, which has closed a few miles of the Pacific Crest Trail for the past several years. When I hiked it required road walking along the 2 for a while, which was actually kind of a nice break from being on trail.

Optimistic about the rain not doing too much additional damage… assuming we get any.