• The Point Reyes Beach as viewed from the Point Reyes Headlands

    Point Reyes

    National Seashore California

There are park alerts in effect.
show Alerts »
  • 2014 Changes to the Superintendent's Compendium

    Point Reyes National Seashore will be including an unmanned aircraft closure to the Superintendent's Compendium. The NPS invites the public to submit written suggestions, comments, and concerns about this change. Comment deadline is August 19. More »

Vision Fire: Rehabilitation Begins

Firefighters walking through smoke-filled forest during the 1995 Vision Fire. Firefighters on the left walking toward the left. Sunlight streaming through the smoke from upper right.
 
 

The Vision Fire

From its beginning on October 3rd near Mt. Vision, until containment on October 7, 1995, the fire burned 12,354 acres of private, state and federal lands. Winds of up to 45 mph quickly transformed a small fire ignited by the smoldering remains of an illegal campfire into a firestorm. Forty-five homes in the town of Inverness Park were consumed in the first 24 hours of the blaze. Due to the nature of the landscape and the proximity to private lands and property, the decision was made immediately to fight this fire aggressively. The Bear Valley area turned into a self-contained city overnight. Park headquarters became the fire incident command post. Fire engines were parked in the meadow behind the visitor center where Morgan horses usually graze. Tents and sleeping bags dotted the surrounding area. At the height of the fire suppression campaign, 2,164 personnel were on site. This included 74 hand crews, 27 bulldozers, 7 air tankers, 7 helicopters, and 196 fire engines. Although 94% of the burn was in Point Reyes National Seashore, the greatest tragedy involved the loss of local families' homes. The Point Reyes wilderness has already begun its natural recovery process.

Top of Page

 
White smoke rising into a blue sky from Inverness Ridge during the 1995 Vision Fire.

The BAER Team Arrives

A battle such as this cannot be won without some impacts to the landscape. Bulldozers plowed over 25 miles of fire breaks through thick vegetation in an effort to contain the blaze. Among the many unsung heroes are those who helped the land recover from the fire suppression efforts. On October 4, at the request of Park Superintendent Don Neubacher, the Department of the Interior's Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation (BAER) Team arrived at the site. The BAER Team is made up of resource specialists with expertise in plants, animals, soils, water resources, cultural resources, structures, roads and trails. The team members work for various federal agencies and are brought together for emergencies such as the Vision Fire. Even before the fire was contained, the BAER Team combined its talents with local experts to assess the effects of the fire and the damage caused by the suppression efforts. Their main task was to assess these impacts and make recommendations to the Park Superintendent and effected landowners for both short and long term restoration.

Top of Page

 
Regenerating vegetation after the 1995 Vision Fire.

Regenerating vegetation.

Impacts of the Vision Fire

Wildlife
Fire is a natural part of coastal forest and scrub communities. Because the fire spread quickly, engulfing the acreage between Mt. Vision and Limantour Spit within a few hours, some animals were unable to flee the flames. Larger and more mobile animals such as birds, deer, bob cats and raccoons successfully migrated to other areas of the park, as evidenced by increased deer sightings in the Bear Valley area.

The natural environment is constantly changing, giving certain species the opportunity to prosper one moment, and favoring others the next.

A species which may have suffered from the immediate effects of the Vision Fire is the Point Reyes mountain beaver. This medium-sized rodent lives in shallow burrows under thick groves of coyote bush and blackberry thickets. Because of the shallowness of their burrows, it is likely that many animals perished in the fire and more may perish through the winter as lack of food and vegetative cover hamper their survival. As the fire area regenerates, surrounding populations of Point Reyes mountain beaver should spread to the burn area and establish themselves.

An animal which may benefit from the Vision Fire is the Myrtle's silverspot butterfly. A new array of spring wildflowers should arise in the early stages of coastal scrub regeneration. These flowers will provide food for hungry silverspot caterpillars and may allow this rare butterfly to increase its range in the park.

Although it is sad that some individual animals perished in the fire or will have to struggle to survive the temporary loss of habitat, it will also be exciting to witness the remarkable ability of animal species and populations to adapt and rebound.

Top of Page

 
Western gull after the 1995 Vision Fire

Western gull after the fire

Birds
The various natural communities of Point Reyes National Seashore are used at different times of the year by over 440 species of birds.

The fire's immediate impact on the birds of the burned area was displacement. During the heat of the fire, large numbers of turkey vultures were seen circling over the Bishop pine forest of Inverness Ridge, probably evacuating their roost site. Flocks of small songbirds were observed fleeing down ravines from Inverness Ridge. Less mobile birds, such as quail, may not have fared as well in the flames.

Short term concerns center around increased competition for food and shelter through the winter season, particularly for songbirds. Riparian or streamside habitat is by far the most necessary component for songbird survival. The dense thickets of willow provide protection from larger predators such as owls and hawks, and nesting areas in the spring.

The prognosis for long term effects of the fire on bird life is good. Populations of leaf-gleaning species such as kinglets and chickadees may temporarily decline but are expected to rebound as vegetation recovers. Woodpeckers will actually benefit from the fire. New snags will provide soft wood for nesting hole excavations, and predicted beetle infestation in decaying wood will provide additional food. Young plants will proliferate with the added sunshine and nutrients in the soil from decomposing logs, providing more needed food and nesting areas.

Preliminary findings indicate that most of the species of birds which inhabit this area were able to fly to safe ground in unburned areas. The Vision Fire emphasizes the need to preserve large quantities of undeveloped land, encompassing a wide variety of habitats, to safeguard the diversity of life.

Top of Page

 
Bishop pine cone that opened during the 1995 Vision Fire.

Bishop pine cone that opened during the fire.

Plants
The Vision Fire burned quickly through a great diversity of plant communities, including Bishop pine forest, Douglas fir forest, northern coastal scrub, coastal prairie and grasslands, and salt marsh. Because of dense vegetation and erratic wind patterns, the fire consumed approximately 70% of the vegetation in the burned area. The remaining relatively small unburned islands of plant life will help reseed the burned slopes.

The impact of the fire on different plant communities will vary, but in all communities, recovery has already begun. Amidst the layers of ash and debris are seeds, undamaged root crowns, and bulbs still safe within the soil, ready to sprout when conditions are right. Within days of the fire, even before the first fall rains, new green leaves appeared at the base of burned coyote brush and cow parsnip plants, and grasses, blackberry, and many other plants were reestablishing themselves throughout the burn.

Many of our local plants have special adaptations to fire and actually require fire for continued reproductive success and to maintain a healthy plant community. One such plant is Bishop pine, which requires heat to melt the resin in the cones to release seeds, and prefers bare mineral soil with plenty of sunlight for seedling survival.

 
Valley and hills within the area of the 1995 Vision Fire.

View of the burned area within the Phillip Burton Wilderness.

The BAER Team focused on the fire's effects on rare plants and the potential for spread of invasive non-native plants in the disturbed areas. They identified six rare plant species within the burn area, which will need to be closely monitored to determine the impact the fire had on theit specific populations. They also identified potentially hazardous non-natives which are likely to spread, particularly along dozer lines, if they are not closely monitored and removed as they appear.

Fire ecology has been studied in many plant communities, but never have we had an opportunity to study the effects of such a large fire on the Point Reyes Peninsula. Together we will witness the miraculous natural recovery of our parkland, from the salt marsh of the coast to the forest of the ridges, as the seasons and the years unfold.

Top of Page

 
BAER Team member inspects the rehabilitation of bulldozer scars left from the suppression efforts of the 1995 Vision Fire.

A BAER Team member inspects the rehabilitation of bulldozer scars left from fire suppression efforts.

Soils
Soils and watersheds
Soils and watersheds are areas of special concern. Steep slopes in severely burned areas are subject to increased erosion due to loss of stabilizing vegetation. Suppression activities such as bulldozer lines and cutting of trees and bushes for fire breaks can increase surface runoff. Left unattended, these after-effects of fire threaten soil integrity and watershed values downslope. The BAER Team addressed these issues and made recommendations for rehabilitation and long-term site restoration. Many of the proposed stabilization projects will be seen in the park, including the use of curlex (a wood fiber mulch) on steep dozer lines.

 
Rehabilitation team rolling curlex blankets for slope stabilization after the 1995 Vision Fire.

Rehabilitation team rolling curlex blankets for slope stabilization.

Hazards in High Burn Intensity Areas
High intensity burn areas pose particular concern for the risk of major floods, debris slides and mudflows. Approximately 11 % of the total burned area was burned at high intensity, including the watersheds in the Limantour area. In a high intensity burn, the soil is literally balzed. Organic waxes held in leaf litter melt and penetrate the soil to a depth of one to two inches. This forms an impervious, water-repellent layer. A gentle rain may not cause problems, bur a major downpour could be disastrous. A heavy water load may cause topsoil to break free and slide on this waxy underlayer. The most hazardous time for the onset of mudflows and landslides is while it is raining, and up to one hour after it stops. Slides can quickly gather size and speed and "snowball" downslope.
 
Completed restoration of dozer line.

Completed restoration.

Repairing the scars of the fire suppression efforts
BAER Team hydrologists recommended immediate erosion safeguards in critical areas, such as log terraces and dams made of staked-in rice straw bales to slow surface runoff. These measures are already being implemented. Steep dozer lines are being restored with staked down, biodegradable, fiber netting. Because such an abundance of viable seed has been found throughout the burned soils, seeding projects within the park boundaries will not be necessary.

The work to protect vital watersheds continues in the wake of scorching flames and valiant suppression efforts. While the risk of floods and mudflows will remain for two full rainy seasons, park service rehabilitation efforts and newly emerging vegetation promise the ongoing recovery of a damaged landscape.

Top of Page

 
Map showing the daily progression of the 1995 Vision Fire. Click on map for a larger view.

Click on map for a larger view showing the daily progression of the Vision Fire.

Fire Progression Map

October 3:
1:27 pm- Fire lookout at Mt. Barnabe reports smoke on State Park land. 40-50 mph winds quickly spread flames ignited from the remains of a 3 day old illegal campfire.

October 4:
2:00 am- Estimated 20 homes on Inverness Ridge have been destroyed by fire. 700 acres burned. Fire 20% contained. Focus is to save structure and hold fire at Limantour and Muddy Hollow Roads.

9:00 am- Estimated 40 homes destroyed. 2,000 acres burned. Focus is to save structures and hold fire at Coast and Laguna Trails. Point Reyes National Seashore is closed until further notice.

6:00 pm- 45 homes destroyed by fire and another 12 damaged. 8,880 acres burned. Approx. 1,200 firefighters committed to the fire; numbers expected to double by tomorrow.

October 5:
Weather changes bringing higher humidity and lower winds, aiding firefighting efforts. Containment reaches 60%. 11,720 acres burned by late afternoon. BAER Team arrives on scene.

October 6:
Over 10% of the park has burned. 80% containment reached. Focus shifts to the southeast edge of the fire along Sky Trail.

October 7:
Focus in on cooling hot spots near fire break lines as containment reaches 100% at 6:00 pm.

October 8:
Cooling of smoldering stumps and hot spots continues and trail restoration begins. Firefighter demobilization begins.

October 14:
Hot spots flare up on Inverness Ridge. More houses in are threatened.

October 16:
Full Control declared at midnight. Restoration projects continue.

October 19: Estimated cost of fire suppression effort to date: $6.4 million.

Top of Page

 
Firefighters and support personnel who helped fight the 1995 Vision Fire.

Firefighters and support personnel.

Thanks to everyone for contributing so much to help fight the Vision Fire

Alameda ED.
Alto/Richardson Bay F.D.
American Red Cross
Berkeley F.D.
Bolinas F.D.
Bureau of Indian Affairs
Bureau of land Management
CA Conservation Corps.
CA Dept. of Corrections
CA Dept. of Fish and Game
CA Dept. of Forestry
CA Dept. of Youth Authority
CA Highway Patrol
CA Office of Emergency Services
CA States Parks
Carmel Valley F.D
Cellular One
Coastal Ambulance/Stinson Beach
Contra Costa County F.D.
Corte Modera F.D.
Dixon County F.P.D.
Gold Ridge F.D.
Graton Consolidated F.P.D.
Inverness P.U.D.
Kentfield F.D.
Larkspur F.D.
Marin Conservation Corps
Marin County Dept. of Public Works
Marin County F.D.
Marin County Humane Society
Marin County Mental Health
Marin County Sheriffs Office
Marin Municipal Water District
Marinwood F.P.D.
Mill Valley F.D.
Napa County F.D.
National Fish & Wildlife Service
National Guard
National Park Service
National Weather Service









North County F.P.D.
North Marin Water District
Navato F.D.
Oakland F.D.
Pacifica F.P.D.
Pinole F.D.
Rancho Adobe F.P.D.
Redwood Valley/Capella F.P.D.
Richmond F.D.
Ross Dept. of Public Safety
Ross Valley F.P.D.
Salinas Rural F.D.
Salvation Army
San Antonio F.P.D.
San Francisco F.D.
San Mateo County F.D.
San Rafael F.D.
Sausalito F.D.
Sebastopol F.D.
Skywalker Fire Brigade
Suisun City F.D.
Sun Microsystems Computer Corp.
Tamalpais Valley F.D.
Tiburon F.D.
Trimble Navigation Ltd.
U.S. Coast Guard
U.S. Forest Service
U.S. Meteorlogical Service
Vacaville F.P.D.
West County F.D.
Willmar F.D.

Top of Page

 
Fire crew at Bear Valley during 1995 Vision Fire.

Fire crew at Bear Valley.

Bear Valley becomes a self-contained City

Imagine working 24-hour shifts fighting a fast moving, out of control wildfire. You're tired, hungry, dirty and far from home. How do you recuperate? Where do you go?

Firefighters on the Vision Fire utilized the Bear Valley area as a base camp.
Specially-adapted trucks housing portable showers parked in the dirt parking lot near the Earthquake Trail. A nearby truck operated laundry facilities. Another trailer had lighted sinks so firefighters and support staff could wash their hands, shave, and brush their teeth any time of day.

Mobile kitchens were brought to the Bear Valley picnic area to prepare three meals a day. Specific crews were assigned kitchen duty to feed and clean up after over 2,000 firefighters. Rows of picnic tables were brought in along with lights, portable heaters, generators, pay telephones and rows of porta-potties. Marin Conservation Corps recycled 2700 pounds of cardboard, 350 pounds of aluminum cans, and 307 pounds of plastic from the base camp.

The Seashore Headquarters area became the Incident Command Post. Administrative support personnel moved in computers, fax machines, and extra phone lines, utilizing every inch of available space in the campaign to stop the fire.

Firefighters on the Vision Fire utilized the Bear Valley area as a base camp.
Specially-adapted trucks housing portable showers parked in the dirt parking lot near the Earthquake Trail. A nearby truck operated laundry facilities. Another trailer had lighted sinks so firefighters and support staff could wash their hands, shave, and brush their teeth any time of day.

Mobile kitchens were brought to the Bear Valley picnic area to prepare three meals a day. Specific crews were assigned kitchen duty to feed and clean up after over 2,000 firefighters. Rows of picnic tables were brought in along with lights, portable heaters, generators, pay telephones and rows of porta-potties. Marin Conservation Corps recycled 2700 pounds of cardboard, 350 pounds of aluminum cans, and 307 pounds of plastic from the base camp.

The Seashore Headquarters area became the Incident Command Post. Administrative support personnel moved in computers, fax machines, and extra phone lines, utilizing every inch of available space in the campaign to stop the fire.

Top of Page

 
"The support from the community was overwhelmingly positive." - Don Neubacher, Park Superintendent, images of student artwork thanking firefighters, and fire trucks parked at Sky Campground.
 

How You Can Help

Stay on Trails:
Avoid crushing seedlings or compacting soil by staying on the trails and not taking shortcuts. The plant life in the burn area is delicate as it germinates and resprouts after the fire. Some bulldozer lines are being stabilized with a fiber mulch. Please help speed their regeneration by avoiding these areas.

Respect "Area Closed" signs:
These closures reflect our concern for your safety and for the long term health of the wilderness. We need your cooperation in allowing us, and nature, time to restore trails and stabilize slopes.

Volunteer with the Habitat Restoration Team:
The team meets twice a month on weekends to control the spread of non-native plants, and now will also be monitoring burned areas for plant regrowth and assisting with a variety of rehabilitation projects. Call (415) 663-1092 for more information or to sign up.

Observations:
Bring your observations of plam and wildlife recovery in the burned area to the Bear Valley Visitor Center, to include in our Fire Recovery Journal. The information gathered can be used by resource management specialists and educators to learn more about the effects of fire in the park.

Donations:
To help with the rehabilitation of the Vision Fire, your tax-deductible donations can be made out to: Point Reyes National Seashore Association (PRNSA) and mailed to: Point Reyes National Seashore Association, Point Reyes National Seashore, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956. For more information, please contact John Dell'Osso at (415) 663-8522.

Back to 1995 Vision Fire | Top of Page

Did You Know?

Spotted towhee. Dave Menke / FWS.

Point Reyes has some of the greatest avian diversity of any U.S. national park, with more than 490 species of birds recorded (45% of species of birds in North America). More...