Catastrophic wildfires that claimed lives and destroyed property around the North Bay took a toll on public parklands and open space, scorching ridgelines and setting undeveloped mountains hauntingly ablaze.
More than three weeks later, the post-fire assessments in Sonoma County are stark.
Sonoma Valley Regional Park was entirely burned over by fire and 93 percent of Shiloh Ranch Regional Park was burned.
At Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, 80 percent burned, including five homes for park personnel that were destroyed and two wooden outhouses.
More than 60 percent of Trione- Annadel State Park and Hood Mountain Regional Park were damaged by flames, officials said.
All those sites, as well as Robert Louis Stevenson State Park in Napa County, are closed indefinitely.
But the story within each park is more nuanced than the numbers would suggest.
“The fire effects that we’re seeing are across a full spectrum,” said Melanie Parker, natural resources manager for Sonoma County Regional Parks. “It’s really fascinating to get out there. It’s not all heartbreak.”
In some areas, hopscotching flames propelled by shifting winds left meandering burn patterns and large swaths of grass and forest untouched.
In others, the landscape is so unrecognizable it can be disorienting, even for someone very familiar with a given park, said Hattie Brown, Regional Parks natural resources coordinator.
The varying heat and intensity of the fires allowed for a healthy clearing of underbrush in many parts, mostly sparing fire-adapted trees and much of their leafy canopy.
On some slopes, however, the flames burned at such high temperatures that only ash and scorched soil remain below blackened manzanita and matchstick stands of once-green conifers.
Crews equipped with bulldozers left behind broad fireline scars along ridgetops, as well, disturbing soil and plant life in order to make a stand against destructive flames. On the northeast side of Hood Mountain, for example, where a large swath of pygmy forest once stood, uprooted trees have been scattered on barren soil in hopes they will promote regeneration. Nearby, acres of bare grassland have been strewn with straw and seed to hold the soil in place and regrow as the rainy season sets in.
Regional park personnel and maintenance crews have spent days surveying trees, taking down those that pose a safety risk, and undertaking erosion control work in advance of rain. The season’s first storm front was expected today.
The damage to parks adds to a unprecedented disaster in Sonoma County, where at least 23 people died in the fires and tens of thousands of residents were displaced from destroyed homes.
Park managers know that opportunities to get out in nature are needed more than ever, given the widespread anguish. And they’re hearing from an impatient public eager to have the shuttered parks reopened.
Officials hope visitors may be allowed into some portion of popular Trione-Annadel State Park in Santa Rosa, where mapping indicates more than 3,000 acres burned, said Vince Anibale, a State Parks superintendent for the Bay Area. Most of the damage was in the southern half of the park, so access via Channel Drive on the north end may be possible in the coming weeks, he said.
Jack London State Historic Park outside Glen Ellen already has reopened with free entry through the end of the year.