Near the beginning of what is likely to be an intense fire season, the area north of Cold Canyon that has burned twice before over the past four years was in flames again. A total of 2,269 acres burned north of Highway 128 near Winters over three days in early July:
This map shows all of the fires in the area between 2014 and 2016:
While fire is a necessary component of a healthy ecosystem, when the same area burns repeatedly with only short intervals between fires, seed banks are destroyed and trees that might have survived a single fire are unable to recover enough to withstand the next fire. We still have a couple of months or more of hot dry weather, and plenty of extra fuel this year as a result of the wet winter. I will be surprised if there are not more fires in this area this year.
Anadromous fish do not make their way into Cold Creek, but Cold Creek is a tributary to Putah Creek, which does have salmon and steelhead. Water quality in Cold Creek (including impacts from fire) has a direct impact on water in Putah Creek and on the organisms that rely on Putah Creek. Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) and steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) return to Putah Creek to spawn after spending several years in the ocean, and are dependent on cool, clear water free of contaminants for their survival.
In November, I watched Chinook salmon traveling up Putah Creek in downtown Winters, just under the old railroad bridge. I made some sketches onsite:
And then developed a more detailed depiction of the scene at home:
Almost exactly one year from the start of the Wragg Fire, the Cold Fire burned the area just north of Cold Canyon. It covered nearly the same area as the Monticello Fire did in 2014. Three years now of annual fires in this area: what will 2017 bring?
On the second day of the Cold Fire, I drove toward Winters to take a look at the smoky sky. The setting sun was an unearthly pink. While the smoke had not reached the country intersection where I made these drawings, the road was engulfed in smoke by the time reached the outskirts of Winters.
The Wragg Fire started just over the ridge to the west of Cold Canyon, rushing quickly over the hill and down into the canyon. Once there, it remained in the canyon, generating winds that caused it to cycle within the canyon, according to Jeffrey Clary, Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve Manager. This greatly increased the intensity of burning in the canyon. The differences in fire intensity across the landscape burned will lead to interesting opportunities to compare rates and types of regrowth in the coming years.