Fire, Chaparral, and Survival in Southern California the best book available that accurately describes California's most extensive plant community - the chaparral - and its relationship to fire. This is an essential book for anyone living in California.
You will receive a free copy of this book by becoming a member of the California Chaparral Institute OR you can order the book from Amazon.com.
Reference: Halsey, R.W. 2008. Fire, Chaparral, and Survival in Southern California. Second Edition. Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, California.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Becoming a Chaparralian
Chapter 1: Chaparral, the Unknown Wilderness
Chapter 2: When the Fire Came, with special contributions by: Susan Conniry, Michael Wangler, Michael Klein, Bill Howell.
Chapter 3: Fire and Firefighters, with special contributions by: Two veteran firefighters, Chris Blaylock.
Color Photo Section
Chapter 4: Getting Ready for the Next One, with special contributions by: Kurt Schasker, Klaus Radtke.
Chapter 5: After the Fire, with special contributions by: Wayne Spencer, Klaus Radtke, Mike Evans.
Chapter 6: Learning From Fires, with special contributions by: Max A. Moritz, Marti Witter and Robert Taylor, Jon E. Keeley and CJ Fotheringham.
Chapter 7: The Next 100 years
Chapter 8: Color ID Section: The Essential 64 Plants and Animals of Southern California Chaparral
Appendix I: Nature’s Value by Anne S. Fege.
The intrinsic feature about rediscovering the wildness within is its simplicity and accessibility. Following the teachings of a modern day philosopher is redundant because the knowledge lies within your own mind. A distant trip to some far off place is unnecessary. As long as you can find a natural place uninterrupted by the rumblings of civilization, the location of one’s inspiration is unimportant. For those of us in southern California, the most common natural community is the chaparral. Like a coastal tide pool, desert, and forest, the chaparral has a unique collection of plant and animal populations intimately connected to their environment and each other. If given the opportunity, these missionaries from nature are willing teachers to help us reconnect with the wildness within. By watching them, distinguishing differences between each group, and learning the patterns they display, our senses become attuned again to the rhythms of nature; we become naturalists.
Because of its density, uniform cover and nonexistent understory of herbaceous plants, the diversity of chaparral animal life is low when compared to a forest ecosystem. However, the animals that do call the chaparral their home are an interesting assortment of highly territorial survivors. There are two in particular that a shrubland visitor will invariably notice, the sparrow-sized wrentit and the big-eared woodrat.
The wrentit (Chamaea fasciata) is one of the most homebound bird species in North America, restricting its movement to less than two acres (Fig. 1-11). Despite being visually secretive, both male and females sing all year round allowing their location to be pinpointed by sound, a descending whistle having the beat of bouncing ping-pong ball.
“The Viejas fire in 01, the Gavilan fire in 02 and then again during the Cedar fire in 03. It’s always the same damn thing.”
Jim Hart, a veteran firefighter in San Diego County, leaned against his truck and shook his head. Soot was buried deeply into his skin and a cigarette hung from his hand like an old bandaged finger. He was taking a break after spending all night trying to keep his firefighters alive. He was one of the incident commanders coordinating suppression efforts on a fire raging in the local foothills. “The media, the politicians, they blame the fire service and lack of aircraft for the loss of homes. Every time. People don’t have a clue how fires are fought. They think if they’ve tended a campfire or watched brushfires from a lawn chair, they’re instant experts. Right.”
Book Review of the Second Edition
From East County Magazine
FIRE, CHAPARRAL, AND SURVIVAL IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
by Richard W. Halsey
Second Edition, Revised and Updated
Sunbelt Publications, San Diego. 2008. 232 pages, illustrated, color plates.
Reviewed by Walter Hall
“The Viejas fire in ’01, the Galivan fire in ’02, and then again during the Cedar fire in ’03. It’s always the same damn thing.” A weary incident commander back on the fire line.
It is fire season. And with it, the specter of a firestorm again hovers over the West. The flames will come – only the where and the when are unknown. For that reason alone, this guide to survival deserves a space on the bookshelf of every Southland family.
Reader friendly, absorbing and of immediate utility for East County residents, the book resists easy classification. It is at once a field guide to chaparral habitat, a platform for more enlightened wildlands and wildfire management and a homeowner’s guide to greater security from the fires that, with distressing regularity, paint large expanses of the golden state with ash.
A noted San Diego biologist, award-winning teacher and favorite lecturer at the Natural History Museum in Balboa Park, Rick Halsey brings three decades of study and field research to his subject. An experienced wildland firefighter himself, the author consults with many regional law enforcement, environmental and land management agencies. With that résumé, he is uniquely prepared to interpret both what happens when fire sweeps the hills and what ought not to happen when the public policy brouhahas erupt before the embers are cold. (For Halsey’s continuing work on chaparral visit www.californiachaparral.org)
Halsey weaves his story from many threads – allowing each its own voice. This was a wise decision. The book’s 21 contributors lend expertise, human interest and narrative energy. The combination infuses the text with authenticity. The first-hand accounts of an able roster of scientists, emergency crewmembers, wildlands residents and eye witnesses to tragedy bring much-needed clarity to complex and thorny questions in natural history and public safety administration.
The adhesive that binds all this together is Halsey’s vision for a different way into our common future. His message is simple, but eloquent: “A thorough and honest understanding of natural history is crucial if we want to preserve the quality of life we enjoy today.” The prerequisite for such understanding is a greater number of fire literate citizens. This book is designed to be their primer.
Along the way, Halsey and his contributors engage and effectively debunk a number of prevalent myths about wildland fires. Marshalling his evidence, Halsey argues that chaparral is not adapted for fire, per se, nor is it a fire-dependent natural system; old-growth chaparral is a healthy, dynamic environment and is not choking San Diego hillsides with “overgrown” brush; fire suppression over the years has not led to an “unnatural” accumulation of chaparral, fueling ever larger fires; and wildland fires can not be extinguished by aerial drops of water or fire retardant alone. These findings should make their way into public awareness and subsequent debate on fire safety policies.
Readers familiar with the first edition will wonder what’s new here. Actually, quite a lot. The revisions and additions are well worth a look. Among the most notable are a new 16-page introductory essay addressing questions such as “Why do homes burn?” The updates to Chapter 4 enhance the “Getting Ready” story with lessons learned from the region’s devastating fires in 2007. A new contribution from Mike Evans of the Tree of Life native plant nursery gives the “What to do after a fire” chapter a wholly different perspective, while the vivid new end covers provide detailed perimeter maps showing all the fires in Southern California, from 1900 through 2007. Throughout, the updated text benefits from an array of helpful new ink illustrations, complemented by a selection of full color plates.
All of that makes this edition the most thorough and most accessible book currently available on California’s most extensive wildlands habitat, the chaparral. More importantly, it is a levelheaded guide to living with and within that habitat. East County residents – and others who drive east on 8, west on 52, or north on 15 – will not look out over the chaparral-cloaked hills in quite the same way again. Nor are they likely to be indifferent to the parched and weedy grasslands that have replaced chaparral in all too many places.
Last year, Sunbelt Publications garnered best-in-class recognition at the San Diego Book Awards for this book. Rightly so. The production values are high, the color plates sharp and the text is loaded with consequence. Second District Supervisor Diane Jacobs recently noted that the County, all local jurisdictions combined, spends about $450 million annually on structural fire protection and emergency services. Wildfire is a perennial issue that touches every resident in the County.
This is a reflective book, some passages recall the work of Muir, Aldo Leopold and other American pathfinders. The author’s deep connection with the wildlands informs every page. But it is also an unmistakable call to action. Halsey’s ultimate concerns are for the safety of our citizens – and especially those we ask to go into harm’s way when disaster strikes - and for the integrity of Southern California’s frequently misunderstood environment.
The passion in Halsey’s message comes from the increasing frequency of Southland fires in recent years as well as our often ham-fisted response to them. The double-punch makes the recovery of native chaparral habitats ever harder. We are only beginning to comprehend the multiple long-term consequences of the loss.
Halsey proposes a fundamental shift in how we think about our relationship to the land we live in. Instead of mastering or subduing the natural landscape, the emphasis would be better placed on fireproofing those communities perched on the intersection of urban and wild landscapes. An approach that stresses living with, rather than imposing upon, nature’s timeless cycles would be less expensive, more sustainable over time and far less likely to end in tragedy.
Such a shift is not beyond our grasp. The urgency of it is telegraphed in chapter or section headings such as “Getting ready for the next one.” Halsey distills the essentials into a wildlands fire safety triad: greater wisdom (and restraint) in selecting locations for building; designs appropriate to the level of risk; and maintenance of survivable or defensible space. By addressing theses challenges from the house outward, instead of inward from the hillside, Halsey recasts both our thinking and our priorities.
Despite the sensational aspects of his topic, Halsey is not an alarmist. Nor does he dwell on the disheartening stories, such as the fate of San Diego’s vanishing vernal pools. Admirably, he steers well clear of pessimism. Instead, he has given us a concerned, but still hopeful book. If we just take the time, he seems to say, we can get this relationship right. Why not do that?
Read this book; share it with family, neighbors and friends - so that next time, and Halsey’s contributors all make it clear that there will be a next time, it won’t be “the same damn thing.”