10 Months After Marble Cone: An Historic Article by Dr. James Griffin

Dr. James Griffin, of Hastings Reservation, published a very interesting article in the July 1978 issue of Fremontia (a journal of the California Native Plant Society). Dr. Griffin comments on the recovery of forests 10 months after the fire as well as touching on other interesting topics including the pre-Marble Cone history of fire in the Santa Lucia Mountains.

We were interested to read that 6,000 firefighters were engaged in putting out the Marble Cone Fire (which, just like the Basin Complex, began on a day when lightning started hundreds of fires throughout Northern California). That’s about three times as many as were available to fight the Basin Complex and may go a long way toward explaining why so little was done to protect people’s homes this time. 

Choice quotes include:

“(T)he single most important factor in the abundance of fuel was a wet, sticky snowfall on January 3, 1974 which crushed the crowns of evergreen trees and shrubs. … On tens of thousands of acres at least ten tons per acre of dead fuel were lying on the ground or hanging in the trees. In the worst spots fifty tons per acre of broken branches were present.”

“The severely burned chaparral slopes suffered heavy soil erosion during the January-to-March storms in 1978. On slopes steeper than forty percent, most of the ashes, charred litter, and the upper inch or so of soil were washed off by sheet erosion by late January. … The erosion and rapid run-off from such slopes had a disastrous effect on the riparian communities downstream.”

“Despite media reports to the contrary, the Los Padres National Forest was not prohibited from using mechanized equipment in suppressing the fire within the Ventana Wilderness.” (The roots of today’s rural legends run deep!)

“A few redwood groves at higher elevations in the Big Sur drainage may have been killed outright. At least they showed no sign of sprouting when last viewed before the winter storms closed the area to any prudent observer.” (Ah yes … The pre “Nanny State” days when adults were free to make up their own minds about what was or was not “prudent.”)

The entire article is highly recommended. It starts on page 8 of the July 1978 Fremontia.

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One Response to 10 Months After Marble Cone: An Historic Article by Dr. James Griffin

  1. It was a nice surprise to find my father’s work cited in Xasauan Today and I loved the line about the Nanny State. Dad loved the Santa Lucia Mountains, and was especially enamored with the quiet little miracles of biology that lie hidden in the brush. Maybe he figured that enough people are on hand to appreciate the dramatic landscapes. Give him a wierd milkweed or an unsusal relationship between an especially sterile soil type and an emaciated, scruffy survivor of a plant and he was happy. I accompanied him on his first trips into the backcountry to assess the Marble Cone fire damage and he showed me tender young chamise shoots six inches long sprouting out from burned stumps, and this only two weeks after the fire has passed through. Thanks so much for your post. It made my day. Andy

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