Mendocino River Fire Damage Stirs Scientific Curiosity At UC Hopland Research Center

Aug 6, 2018

About two-thirds of the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center was burned as the River Fire moved onto the 5,358 acre ranch. All homes and structures were saved along with the ranch animals thanks to the efforts of staff, neighbors, CAL FIRE and the Hopland Fire Protection District.

 KZYX reporter Sarah Reith interviewed HREC community educator Hannah Bird about the impact of the fire, and found her to be brimming with scientific curiosity about the opportunities provided by the fire to research and understand how California wild lands survive and recover from wild fire. 

One of nine UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Research and Extension Centers across the state, HREC has been a place for agriculture and natural resource research since 1951. Over that time, many studies have considered the implications of different prescribed or controlled fire regimes and events  have been held to share this knowledge with the public to encourage fire safe land management practices.

On the afternoon of July 27, wildfire touched HREC as the River Fire spread onto the site. The staff had to evacuate their homes and act swiftly to protect the 500 sheep, 6 guardian dogs and 1 sheepdog who live on the center.

“Our staff were amazing,” Bird said. “They worked together first and foremost to protect the residents who live on site and assist in evacuation, ensuring precious possessions were collected as quickly as possible. Our shepherd Jim Lewers already had an emergency plan in place for the sheep and they were moved down into our safest irrigated pasture on the lowest part of the site alongside their protection dogs. My phone conversation with our director, John Bailey, at around 8:30 p.m. that night was not hopeful – he asked if I needed anything more from my house as he watched the fire move down the slopes towards our headquarters buildings. We were so grateful that CalFire arrived on site soon afterwards and saved our homes and offices.”

The fire burned oak woodlands, chaparral and grasslands, which will impact studies conducted on the site by researchers from a variety of different universities and disciplines.
“Although some research projects have been affected, this also heralds an opportunity for HREC to offer research on post fire regeneration. Our long-term data pre fire will be of benefit to scientists who seek to better understand the effects of wildfire. Fire is an important tool for our landscape and we hope to see the regenerative effects on our site from this burn in the future. Although, for now, our thoughts are with all of those whose homes are still at risk,”  Bird said.