Help sought to kickstart recovery at fire-scarred Hood Mountain Regional Park
The Glass fire was merciless as it blazed across the Mayacamas Mountains and through Hood Mountain Regional Park last fall, charring 80% of the 2,000-acre park and open space preserve and closing it to the public indefinitely.
Though much of the fire-adapted landscape eventually will recover, the Sept. 27 wildfire burned at high enough intensity to cause significant damage to nature and man-made infrastructure now in need of replacement at the county park on the eastern flank of Sonoma Valley.
The Sonoma County Regional Parks foundation has launched a fundraising campaign to help, seeded with a $10,000 challenge grant from nearby Kenwood Vineyards, a longtime wine sponsor for the foundation’s Funky Friday summertime concert series in the park.
“They specifically wanted to do something for Hood Mountain because a lot of their staff live in the area,” said Melissa Kelley, executive director of the foundation. “These are folks that are looking at this burned mountainside day after day. They have that ever-present reminder.”
Some of it’s pretty hard to look at: dark slopes shorn of their once thick tree cover, laying bare the chiseled terrain surrounding Hood Mountain; ridges bristling with charred, skeletal trees silhouetted against the sky; hillside trails skirted by blackened timber, the surface bark smooth like charcoal.
The 67,484-acre Glass fire burned through Hood Mountain on its initial run from Napa County, cutting north to south across the Mayacamas and burning with particularly high intensity in the northern and interior areas of the park that had been left untouched by the 2017 North Bay fires, which burned so much of the surrounding region.
Where Los Alamos Road leads into the north end of the park, bright green grass already has sprouted on open meadows, offering a sharp contrast in the shadows of darkened hillsides and scorched soil stretching down toward the headwaters of Santa Rosa Creek.
The fire ran roughshod through the Sargent cypress pygmy forest, which was just recovering from large-scale disruption by bulldozers during the 2017 firefight. A rare species of dwarf tree that grows in pockets of serpentine soil dotted around California’s Coast Range, the cypress trees were “very much annihilated” by the latest bout of flames, said Regional Parks Director Bert Whitaker.
Where the 2017 Nuns fire burned into the southern end of the park, around the Pythian Road entrance, the Glass fire burned more spottily. In areas where it did take off, it further damaged trees already made vulnerable by the earlier fire, requiring they be cut down lest they pose a danger to future park visitors or destabilize hillsides, park officials said.
Park maintenance crews have felled hundreds upon hundreds of hazard trees already, and placed erosion-control wattles around the park to help direct water flow and do what’s possible to prevent mudslides and debris flows, though the area largely remains at high risk if sufficient rainfall occurs.
Whitaker said the overall cost of recovery was somewhere in the range of $1.5 to $2 million — funding the county hopes to recover, at least in part, through the Federal Emergency Management Administration.
The work includes replacing man-made sites such as the entirety of the Azalea Creek Campground, of which only a single metal food storage box survived.
Directional and informational signs, footbridges, retaining walls, picnic tables, several structures, steps — “pretty much anything made of wood” was destroyed or incinerated, Kelley said.
But it no longer makes sense to rebuild with wood or other materials unable to survive whatever fire comes next — meaning heftier front-investments that won’t be covered through the claims process, Whitaker said.