Hiking In Scorched Wildfire Country

Wildfires have in the news recently, thanks to multiple fires all over southern California. There are wildfires in and around Los Angeles almost every year, and I’m always riveted by the news coverage of how they spread and how firefighters battle them. I recently went hiking in an area ravaged by wildfire, and… Wow. Just wow.

Scorched hillside.

(I’m publishing this from Paris! I’ll have blog posts soon about my trip and the Eiffel Tower Vertical race, and am sharing updates on social media: I’m @keepitupdavid on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. In the meantime, I’m sharing all-new blog content this week, like this post!)

The La Tuna fire tore through La Tuna Canyon in September 2017, over Labor Day weekend. It burned over 7,000 acres, and was the largest fire within Los Angeles city limits in 50 years. Five houses burned down, hundreds more were evacuated. Over a thousand firefighters fought the flames. My home is about five miles from that fire. The smoke filled the skies, ash fell like snow, and I could see the orange glow at night from my street.

A lot of the acreage that burned in the La Tuna fire was open park land: Wildwood Canyon Park, Verdugo Mountain Park, and La Tuna Canyon Park. I went to a trailhead in La Tuna Canyon Park – an area where I had never hiked before – and checked it out.

There was evidence of the fire everywhere I looked as I drove to the Hostetter Fire Road trailhead: barren hillsides and charred trees, and a lot more brown when there’s usually at least some green. This particular hike began in an area that didn’t burn, and the first sign of firefighting activity that I came across was this scraping of the earth:

It looks like a super-wide trail, but it’s not. You can see the actual trail veering off to the right. This was a firebreak made during the La Tuna fire. Firefighters clear a strip of earth, removing all brush and dead limbs, and plow the ground until it’s just dirt. Up close, it looks like the start of a construction site.

In theory, fires can’t cross a firebreak, because there’s nothing flammable in the firebreak. Firebreaks don’t do much when it’s windy, though – as wind can carry flaming embers over a firebreak. In the case of the La Tuna fire, wind carried embers over the 210 freeway, prompting the city to shut down the freeway completely. The fire didn’t actually reach this part of this firebreak, as the vegetation remains green and alive on both sides.

RELATED CONTENT: More hike adventures! Read about hikes to a shipwreck, a gold mine, a Nazi compound, and at the top of the Palm Springs Tramway.

As I got higher on the trail, though, I very clearly crossed into the burn area. Within a matter of a few dozen yards, the trail went from looking like this…

…to looking like this:

You can very clearly see, on this hillside, where the fire stopped:

There’s no firebreak at the edge of that burn area, so I’m curious if firefighters were actively fighting in this area, or perhaps the winds shifted, so the fire burned in a different direction? Or maybe a plane or helicopter doused this area with water or fire retardant? So many questions!

I came across something else that I wasn’t expecting on this hike. Bees!

Dozens of beehives, surrounded by thousands and thousands of bees!

This bee posed for a selfie with me:

I couldn’t find any info online about these beehives, although I did find an article about firefighters getting stung by these bees while fighting a 2013 fire.

All in all, it was a pretty cool hike, some in a gorgeous mountain setting that I’m used to hiking in around this area, and some looking like a wasteland on another planet. My hike was 3.6 miles (1.8 miles up and down the same trail), with an elevation gain of 702 feet, and it took me 78 minutes. I read after the fact that had I kept going, I would’ve reached a summit where, on a clear day, I could see all the way to Malibu. There’s a reason to go back! Reaching the summit would roughly double the distance of the hike, but I’d be up for that.

Keep it up, David!

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2 Responses to Hiking In Scorched Wildfire Country

  1. Charlotte Cavaluzzi says:

    You need to research those beehives David and let us know what you find out. Loved the bee selfie!! 😁

    • David says:

      I tried to research the beehives and came up empty handed! And the bee selfie was the first one I’ve taken with a creature that could sting me. #Brave

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