Environmentalists, volunteers focus on creeks, streams after North Bay Fires

Wayne Freedman Image
ByWayne Freedman KGO logo
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
Damage from the North Bay Wildfires is seen in Santa Rosa, Calif. on November 27, 2017.
Damage from the North Bay Wildfires is seen in Santa Rosa, Calif. on November 27, 2017.

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- Almost two months after the fire, and now, after a night of rain, one might infer that maybe, Sonoma County's fire woes are beginning to wash away, just a bit.

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In fact, along watersheds, the opposite is true It means a new crisis, particularly in places like Glen Ellen's O'Donnell Lane, where homes burned next to Sonoma Creek, and threaten to compromise or damage the ecosystem.

"This isn't just soot and ash," said Caitlin Cornwall, a biologist from the Sonoma Ecology Center. "It's a threat." Ordinary household items break down into chemicals and compounds when burned. Nitrates, sulfates, asbestos, and heavy metals are hardly benign, especially when they flow into a creek that supports Chinook, Steelhead, and California Fresh Water Shrimp.

The Sonoma Ecology Center is a regional nonprofit dedicated to sustainability and research. The fire left staffers overwhelmed with too much to study, from questions about replacing trees to the behaviors of soils, so they have concentrated their efforts on the effect of burned neighborhoods on creeks and streams. Now that the rainy season appears to have arrived, their work becomes more critical.

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They, along with volunteers, have contacted landowners, put sandbags around storm drains, and protected the stream as much as possible. "We're like second responders," said Mark Newhouser, who runs the restoration program.

As part of the program, the non-profit has begun sampling runoff after storms and sending it to the state for analysis. No results have been sent back yet, but we should get a very good picture within a couple of weeks.

Call it a form of soot ecology.

Click here for more stories, pictures and videos of the North Bay Wildfires