Fire Stories

Fire stories from the national parks highlight events, incidents, and the like, associated with fire and fuels management, as well as fire education, technology, partnerships, and more. Stories highlight work related to Department of the Interior initiatives as well as local and regional initiatives.

dry landscape, blue sky, patches of grass

Photo point at Travertine Springs five months after palm removal in August 2011

The Rehabilitation of Travertine Springs

Death Valley National Park, California
Cohesive Strategy—Maintain and Restore Landscapes*

On August 9, 2010, the Travertine Fire burned 22 acres of a lush desert oasis in Death Valley National Park. The Travertine Springs complex provides habitat to four rare plant species and nine endemic aquatic invertebrates. This habitat was particularly vulnerable to fire due to the invasion of non-native palm trees that had been introduced to nearby Furnace Creek over a century ago. A mixture of date palms from Africa and fan palms from the Coachella Valley created a dense and volatile thatch that not only shaded and crowded native species, but also used a tremendous amount of water, making precious resources unavailable to native plants and wildlife.

lush healthy landscape

Photo point at Travertine Springs pre-fire in February 2009, non-native palm trees.

bulldozer in use to restore the landscape

Photo point at Travertine Springs during rehabilitation in February 2011

A Burned Area Rehabilitation plan was developed and fully funded in 2011 providing crucial resources to remove invasive palms from the burned area. While the areas with the densest palm growth were left completely scorched and sterilized of native vegetation, over 99% of the palm trees survived. Both date palms and California fan palms are highly adapted to fire and will produce even more fruit with the post-fire release of water and nutrients. Palms are notoriously difficult to control and can often re-sprout from roots even after herbicide treatments. The control of palm trees was critical for the recovery of this sensitive spring habitat.

In January 2011, contractors were hired to extract all of the palms with roots included. With the use of heavy machinery, over 500 palm trees were removed in just 15 work days. All disturbed sites were smoothed using an excavator and tracks were raked out by hand. Just days after the project was completed, it was difficult to imagine the presence of heavy machinery or the hundreds of palms that had dominated the landscape around springs.

Since the removal of palms, the burned area has been monitored closely and all non-native plants have been tightly controlled. With the release of large amounts of water formerly held by palms, the recovery of native vegetation is occurring at a rapid rate.

Contact: Jane Cipra, Botanist
Phone: (760) 786-3233

*This story supports the Department of the Interior initiatives.