Seven months after the Alisal Fire swept through Arroyo Hondo Preserve, scorching 95 percent of the property and reducing most of its chaparral woodland to nubs, life is starting to return. Fire-following flowers that use heat and char as signals to sprout now dot the hillsides, and animal life is once more roaming across the 782 acres of Gaviota Coast.
“Wildfires are a fact of life in California and an important part of its ecology,” explained Meredith Hendricks, director of the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, which manages the preserve. “A lot of the plants that are special to this place need fire and smoke to regenerate.” The property, she noted, hadn’t burned in more than 50 years.
When the fire swept down from the ridge above ― ultimately burning 17,000 acres before it was finally contained ― it ate up all the vegetation in its path, but fire crews successfully protected the preserve’s historic buildings, including an adobe and barn. Some infrastructure was lost, like a solar-powered pump for the well, but nothing that can’t be replaced, said Hendricks. “We were very lucky,” she said. “Everyone was safe.”
The rains that followed triggered a handful of minor debris flows and rearranged the creek. “It looks noticeably different,” Hendricks said. Sections of the property’s roads and trails were also damaged. For that reason, the preserve had remained closed while repairs were made, and while more work still needs to be done, Arroyo Hondo is now welcoming visitors back.
Hendricks especially encouraged school groups to make the trip as the current landscape offers a unique opportunity to teach about post-fire regrowth. Docents are available for tours, she said, and the Land Trust has grant funding to underwrite the cost of busing. “So it’s totally free,” she said.
The preserve is open to the public on the first and third full weekend of each month, including this weekend, May 21-22. Go to sblandtrust.org for the most current visiting information and to make your reservation.