Editor’s Note: Like thousands of other residents of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, my family fled as the Thomas Fire roared over the hill toward our home. We were so very fortunate, but many of our friends and neighbors weren’t. A great deal has been written about the fire and recovery process in the ensuing weeks, providing fresh insights and announcing the availability of new services. ICYMI:


Practical Resources: A Workshop in the #805, Egg Testing

Workshop. On Saturday February 24th from 9 a.m. to Noon, Casitas Municipal Water District is hosting a free workshop, “Regrowing from the Ashes: An Opportunity to Reestablish and Reclaim Our California Landscape.” The workshop will be led by Dr. Sabrina Drill, a UC ANR natural resource advisor serving Ventura and Los Angeles counties. Drill’s expertise is broad and includes fire ecology and landscape preservation; watershed education; conservation and restoration of aquatic and wildland habitats; and land use planning. She also serves as Associate Director of UC ANR’s California Naturalist program.

Here’s the workshop description: “We will focus on understanding local fire ecology, and how to maximize this critical time’s opportunities to transform our burnt and ash-blanketed landscapes back to their vibrant, lush, and resilient natural states.” Details: Saturday February 24th, 9 a.m. to Noon, 555 Mahoney Avenue, Oak View. RSVP: bsandoval@casitaswater.com

Egg TestingDue to the fires, there is concern about backyard chickens ingesting contaminants from the ground and subsequent transmission to eggs. If you live in Butte, Lake, Los Angeles, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Sonoma, Ventura and Yuba counties, you may qualify for FREE egg testing, which will assess for various contaminants (e.g., heavy metals, building materials, chemicals, etc). Testing will be conducted by the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Results will be shared individually with each owner; cumulative results will be summarized and made available to the general public. More information is available here.



Orchards, Farmers Played Key Role in Thomas Fire Fight

First responders were – and remain – heroes to communities impacted by the Thomas Fire. They saved lives and property. In some areas, two additional factors helped minimize fire losses: a buffer of irrigated avocado and citrus orchards and the first response of the agricultural community. John Krist, CEO of the Ventura County Farm Bureau, writes about the role that agriculture played in an article which recently appeared in the Ventura County Star. It’s superbly written (no surprise, given that Krist was an award-winning journalist for a couple of decades prior to joining the Farm Bureau).

Krist writes:

“And in those orchards, as the flames advanced, an army of hundreds of farm employees, managers and owners waged a desperate and largely unseen battle to save ranch homes, trees, fruit and equipment. Their efforts helped protect adjacent residential neighborhoods by ensuring that the fire died when it hit those orchards, instead of racing through them.”

Worth a read. Access it here.


Insights From a UC ANR Range Advisor

Matthew Shapero was just three few months on the job as UCCE’s livestock and range advisor for Ventura and Santa Barbara counties when the Thomas Fire struck. He has recently penned a comprehensive piece about that experience: When Wildfire Hits the Ranch: Lessons Learned from the Thomas Fire. It appears on the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network blog (FAC Net). Shapero shares what was learned before, during and after the fire. Agricultural producers and homeowners will likely find this piece extremely useful. #practical

Shapero writes:

“Just as quickly as the Thomas Fire swept through parts of our community, the questions started flooding my office: Should we prune our burned avocado trees? Can I graze my cattle on burned pastures, and if not, how can I increase my forage production for next season? How will the next rain and the sediments it transports impact our water quality?”


Editor’s Note: The mission of FAC Net “is to exchange information, collaborate to enhance the practice of fire adaptation, and work together and at multiple scales to help communities live safely with fire. This includes embracing resiliency concepts and taking action before, during and after wildfires.” The organization provides a number of valuable resources. Subscribe to the blog here.


Focus on Resiliency

I continue to love the Water Deeply platform, which provides incredibly well-written articles on water/environment in the American West. It’s part of the News Deeply platform, which hosts a range of issue-based sites. (Each is stellar).

With its focus on resilience after the So Cal fires, this substantial piece by Cal alum and water policy expert Michelaina Johnson caught my eye. Johnson notes that this was the “deadliest and most destructive year for wildfires” in the state’s history. She wonders:

“As Southern California rebuilds, will it be back to business as usual, or will a climate change-induced “new normal” help spur efforts at greater resilience?

One area of particular interest to environmentalists, county officials and researchers is the wildland-urban interface – the zone of transition between unoccupied land and human development.”



“And Then the Fire Came…”

Ventura County farmer Chris Sayer has frequently (and graciously) provided guest posts for UC Food Observer. As the fire burned, he offered reflections in this post. He wrote:

Yet it occurs to me that this will be a disaster of the soils as well. As I write this, nearly one hundred thousand acres of my home county have been scorched. On barren hillsides and rangeland, the soil lies wounded and vulnerable.”

A few days ago, I asked Chris if he had additional thoughts. He told me:


“I’m not sure I have anything much to add. We need some serious rain, but after Montecito, we are terrified by it…This is going to get very serious. I guess another way to put it is that the Thomas Fire and Montecito slide are two chapters in a longer, unfinished story…”


Food Culture as Part of the Recovery

Food heals. Food builds and celebrates community. Food…is life. And food has played an important role in Ventura County’s #ThomasFire recovery. With its abundance of locally-produced food items and a highly creative culinary community, Ventura can hang with the best of them. One of the best sources of information about the #805 food scene is Ventura County Star/USA Today Network food columnist Lisa McKinnon, who maintains an extraordinary Instagram and Twitter presence. #follow

Chef Jose Andres and the World Central Kitchen arrived during the fire and partnered with local chefs, businesses and community volunteers to feed first responders and the displaced. They mounted a massive operation from the San Buenaventura Mission kitchen. They also donated their services at the #ThomasFire Benefit Festival on February 3rd, which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help those impacted by the fire.

Actor/musician Kevin Costner, who spent part of his childhood in Ventura and performed with his band, told the festival crowd:

“…we might not know what to say,

but we know to gather…”



Additional Editor’s Note: UC ANR – which hosts the UC Food Observer – has a wide range of resources relating to wildfire (recovery, mitigation, etc.). There is useful information for homeowners, landowners, farmers, etc. If you’re a member of the media with questions, click here for a full listing of UC ANR fire experts.

If you live in Ventura or Santa Barbara County, you will find University resources about wildfire and its effects on people and crops, as well as contact information for various governmental/regulatory agencies here. (There are also links to crop loss calculators). A primary source of fire-related info for Ventura County residents is Ready: Ventura County.

Our UC ANR colleagues at the UCCE Sonoma County office have developed a resource website in response to the recent fire disaster in Northern California; it contains wildfire recovery information and links to state and federal resources. They are ahead of us in the recovery process; I encourage you to visit this site.


Related Reading:

Cover crops help build healthy soil.

Cover crops provide bee forage.

If farm dogs ran the world.