Fire, Grief, and Recovery at Riddell
By Craig Anderson
September 4, 2020
As the Walbridge fire bore down on Riddell, LandPaths’ 400-acre preserve west of Healdsburg, firefighters carefully swept the deck of the dry leaf litter around Steve’s cabin.
The simple act of tending to the area around the preserve’s main structure, built by the Riddell family for their son Steve, was just one of thousands by brave firefighters throughout the LNU Lightning Complex. We thank them for their hard work and dedication to protecting lives and property across Northern California.
At the same time, we’re incredibly sorry for the loss of lives lost, from Mendocino to Santa Cruz. Furthermore, a number of LandPaths’ neighbors in the Mill Creek watershed have sustained terrible property losses. Our hearts go out to the many people whose lives will never be the same, made all the more challenging in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Impact on Riddell
At Riddell, we still need to evaluate the intensity of the fire throughout the preserve. We’re not sure yet, but it appears that the land experienced a slower moving “ground fire.” This means that it may have burned woodland fuels such as French Broom and smaller Douglas fir saplings, while largely leaving intact mature madrone, oak, redwoods, bay, and maple tree canopies. We hope that this results in more thriving wildlife habitat and a larger proportion of native plants.
In the same vein, we’re inspired by the fact that Southern Pomo peoples and other indigenous tribes have long had a culture of burning to regenerate the land. There is a co-evolution and wisdom in this and other land tending practices, which continue to inform our approach to stewardship. Some of our staff have already received training in wildland firefighting and prescribed fire. How can we learn more and better apply these time-tested practices? This is a question that will guide our stewardship work moving forward.
Riddell Preserve Recovery Fund
We are now entering into the recovery phase of the Walbridge Fire. For example, CalFire cut fuel breaks with bulldozers across parts of the preserve. While essential to fighting fire, these fuel breaks can disrupt plants and increase erosion into local creeks and the Russian River. As a result, LandPaths’ stewardship staff will have our homework cut out for us in talking to CalFire, and our hands full in healing the scars on the land. I’m hopeful that this can be done by people, not machine, when it’s safe to bring volunteers out.
To support this work, we’ve launched the Riddell Preserve Recovery Fund. Donate to the fund today. Your contribution will support essential efforts to address the impacts of the fuel breaks and the fire on Riddell. The time is now, before the winter rains begin, to launch a long-term, sustained recovery effort. You can be a part of that healing!
Stay safe out there.