Angel Island continues recovery from fire

October 30, 2009 7:17:01 PM PDT
It has been a little over one year since a massive fire scarred half of Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, but you have to look hard to find evidence of it today.

MOST POPULAR: Video, stories and more
SIGN-UP: Get breaking news sent to you from ABC7 News

It was certainly spectacular. There was a ring of fire in the middle of the bay. An out of control campfire sparked a blaze that charred 30 acres on the south side of Angel Island State Park last October.

Park spokesman Dave Matthews says, "It was a good fire for the natural landscape."

Fortunately, damage to historic structures on the island was minimal. Buildings that date back as far as the Civil War were spared.

"The only partial structure that was damaged was a wooden roof to a water reservoir that wasn't being currently used, nor had we any plan of it being used," Matthews says.

As soon as the fire had been stamped out, the recovery began. Within days, park scientists saw signs of nature's restoration.

"All in all, it was actually very beneficial for the island," environmental scientist Bree Hardcastle says. "We had a lot of underbrush that had kind of accumulated over time, a lot of poison oak, a lot of blackberry. So, all of that was cleared out."

Not only did the fire weed out invasive plants, it also helped burn out the roots of eucalyptus forests that were planted by the military generations ago. Their demise paves the way for the re-growth of the island's native oak trees.

"There's a lot of brush and perennial grasses. And, slowly the oaks will start to move back into this area and we'll see a conversion from just coastal scrub to a more oak and coastal scrub mosaic," Hardcastle says.

It will likely take decades before the historic woodlands cover certain parts of the island again. But, the inferno also gave archeologists a clean slate, peeling back layers of history and revealing clues to the islands past uses including: a quarantine station, an immigration depot and a Civil War fort.

Recent park photos show some of the finds including previously-unknown building foundations, brooches, Civil War-era buttons, coins and even a pocket watch.

"Belt buckles, canteens," Matthews describes. "Things that, we don't know the exact story of why they got to where they were, but certainly, you could create in your mind how that soldier might have been sitting up here on the hillside looking out over the bay and forgot to pick up his canteen before he went back to the barracks."

Today, visitors can appreciate those same views. The park is open to the public, including the previously burned out areas, providing an up-close view of nature's restoration work.

"It's incredible how fast Mother Nature can take care of itself," Matthews says.

Fire investigators have isolated the area where the blaze began, however, no one has been charged with starting it.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel

       Today's latest headlines | ABC7 News on your phone
Follow us on Twitter | Fan us on Facebook | Get our free widget


Load Comments