Wooded Sonoma County enclave laid bare by the Walbridge fire – and now, by salvage logging
County and state crews have removed scorched and dangerous trees from roads and public rights-of-way since the Walbridge Fire swept over 55,000 acres of northwest Sonoma County and burned 156 homes, including dozens in the Mill Creek area. The fire broke out following a lightning strike on August 17 in the steep and rugged canyons near the Austin Creek Recreation Area, which abuts the Mill Creek watershed.
PG&E crews were among the first to arrive even as the fire was still smoldering, removing burnt trees that threatened transmission lines and power poles, risking damage, blackouts and future fires.
Fallen trees – black as coal and erect like matches – still litter the landscape. Elsewhere, burnished brush is standing, but it is not known for how long. Some slopes are strewn with cut stumps, the soil all over dusty and parched with the cleared forest cover above, leaving the soil to bake in the oven.
Trees selected for cutting and removal are usually marked with spray paint or plastic tape, dots or numbers or letters color coded in yellow, green and blue to indicate the agency or program involved .
State records show that a number of landowners have been granted emergency waivers allowing them to quickly exploit their property, taking redwoods and other trees that may lose value the longer they stay. after a fire.
The result is a daily melee of logging trucks, dump trucks, vans, helicopters and crews in an isolated area more accustomed to a handful of vehicles passing by each day.
For the owners, most of whom live elsewhere and some of whom will not return, it’s anything but chaos, as they struggle to find out who is on their property and why, amid all the other chores to try. to get back on his feet after a catastrophic fire.
Monica MuÃ±oz-Torres, who lives above Gray Creek near the end of Mill Creek Road with her husband Gregg Helt, said she had always been disappointed by the poor communication and lack of clarity of “the ‘alphabet of organizations’ working in the region. .
Helt said agreements are being made on what will happen to the trees once they are cut, for example. But then this logging is managed by one team for one day, and another team the next time, seemingly regardless of prior arrangements.
His wife said they decided to stay on their property as more and more workers came – “because you have to keep them whenever someone else comes”.
Precious sequoias involved
When PG&E teams started tagging the redwoods in recent weeks, the alarm went off in the community, MuÃ±oz-Torres said. She helps lead her emergency preparedness group of over 200 members.
âThere are all of these mature sequoias that, to our knowledge, have been tough through the ages and are still standing,â she said.
âTons and tonsâ of coastal redwoods on her own property are marked for removal – 191 to be exact – many are not even near electrical equipment, she said.
Contreras, the spokesperson for PG&E, said the latest program focused on “improved vegetation management” allowed in high fire risk areas and allowing PG&E to cut and cut trees for clearance. larger around utility poles and transmission lines than standard.
While healthy coastal redwoods can stay within 4 feet of lines, it is common for unhealthy trees to fall or fail, which requires careful and continuous examination of the trees to prevent this from happening. , Contreras said.
Montgomery’s parents, Bob and Carolyn Alpern, lived on three acres off Mill Creek Road, on the edge of the historic small hamlet of Venado, which until the fire still had a small wooden post office and a one-room school that had lasted 137 years.
It’s renowned as the rainiest place in Sonoma County – and in some years it has totals that exceed the entire West Coast.