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Wildfires are dramatic events for people and wild animals

August 28, 2009 |  9:31 am


A commenter named Jeff accused me of being overly dramatic after I posted an item Wednesday referring to this as the hellish season in Southern California after the Morris fire broke out.

Two days later, four wildfires are burning in Southern California and people are being encouraged to stay indoors because of smoke and sweltering temperatures.

There's plenty of drama to go around. Firefighters are experiencing it first-hand. So are people who live near the fires, some of them now staying in shelters. So are wild animals, some with nowhere to run.

In fact, the fire in the Rancho Palos Verdes area, now 35% contained, is charring not only hiking trails but game trails. It last burned four years ago and local resident Donna McLaughlin recalled hiking in its aftermath and discovering charred rabbits and snakes.

"This fire is a lot worse than the 2005 fire, so I am sure more wildlife has been affected," McLaughlin said after a Friday morning hike on the McBride Trail, which has not been touched by fire.

The fire, however, has burned part of a nature reserve in the Portguese Bend area. That area is one of only a few remaining areas where the California gnatcatcher is found.

Two years ago I interviewed Terri Stewart, a Department  of Fish and Game biologist, who said many small animals cannot outrun major wildfires and also succumb to smoke. But a surprising number of animals do survive by burrowing or holding over in small areas passed over by flames.

She added that raptors will swoop down and prey on these charred critters in a fire's aftermath. Or to use her words, they will "have a field day."

How's that for drama?

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: A helicopter drops water on the Rancho Palos Verdes fire. Credit: Alex Gallardo / Los Angeles Times