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Learning About Wildfires

The smell of smoke. Orange skies. A red tint to the sun. 

Wildfires are a part of California's environment. Nature recovers from normal fires and we can adapt to their inevitability, but the increasing frequency and intensity of these blazes is a problem for wildlife and for us.  

Looking to explain what is happening to kids, youth, or just explore the subject yourself? Here we’ve quickly consolidated resources to help everyone understand fire ecology and its role in our environment. Go ahead and bookmark this page. We’ll work on updating it in the future. 

Wildfire from Coast to Cactus  

This current exhibition features a segment on wildfires. Fires occur naturally in California approximately every 30 years. The incredible biodiversity of San Diego County is uniquely adapted to low rainfall, rugged topography, and wildfires. Natural fires can help keep our native chaparral habitat healthy. Fires enrich the soil and open the ground to sunlight. There are even plants and insects in the chaparral that can reproduce only after a fire. But they are no longer happening every 30 years. They are happening in the same place every 15 years, or 10 years, or four years, or less. Climate change and human expansion have made fires more frequent and, in many ways, more dangerous. You can explore more with these lesson plans: 

Living with Wildfire: Earth, Wind & Wildfire 

Do you live in a hotspot? Why not let wildfires burn? What can you do to your house to reduce fire risk? Is fire good for healthy habitats? Fires will keep happening, how can we adapt? In 2004, The Nat hosted an exhibition all about wildfires in California - one year after what was then one of the most destructive fires in our state’s history. Much of that information is still available. The website looks old (because in internet years, it is), but still relevant, so we've made the archive accessible here for you. 

Conservation Research 

The Nat has participated in several research projects related to wildfires. If you want to get into the nitty gritty of scientific research regarding the effect of wildfires on our animal populations, this is the place to start. Use the navigation menu to explore individual reports. 

Our region is a biodiversity hotspot and supports a large number of threatened and endangered species. Fire-management strategies in southern California can be developed only with detailed information on species’ responses to fire and subsequent patterns of recovery. Yet in spite of the central role of fire in the southern California’s biology, few studies have addressed the responses of any vertebrate to fire, and little is known about how animals recover following fire or what interventions, if any, may be necessary to assist ecological recovery following fire. This was part of a larger series of studies into this subject. 

More Great Resources 

  • In 2020, The Nat hosted Nat Talk: Wildfire--A Tale of Two Backcountries with Dr. Megan Jennings from San Diego State University who shares her experiences as federal land manager and conservation ecologist to discusses San Diego's unique wildfire ecology.
  • The San Diego County Wildfire Education Project also looks a little old-school, but is still recommended for excellent information about fire ecology. 
  • This 2018 report by the Climate Science Alliance talks about how climate change will affect San Diego County. It has a robust section on wildfires. We'd suggest this for high schoolers and adults, but it’s a great resource on the relationship of wildfires and climate change as well as impacts on regional biodiversity. You can visit them here to find additional information and reports. 
  • Many of us see the outdoors as a refuge. The California Department of Parks and Recreation has announced full and partial closures for a number of state parks impacted by the fires. You can find the latest information about full or partial closures here. 
  • For updates on the current fires, you can follow @Cal_Fire on Twitter. 
This is not a comprehensive list of resources. This is a vast and intense subject of study, but learning is always a start. 

Posted by Stephania Villar, Digital Communications Manager .

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