top of page

Day 1 Recap | Wildfire: Weather, Water, Weeds, Wildlife

Over the course of three days, Council for Watershed Health hosted 40 speakers, 9 poster presenters and hundreds of attendees for nearly 12 hours of wildfire-focused presentations and discussions. Presenters are experts in their fields and provided succinct overviews on a wide range of topics, drawing nearly100 questions from attendees. Video recordings, tools and resources, and a record of the audience Q&A are linked throughout this blog. For our final proceeding, this blog provides a summary of the Symposium’s virtual presentations and discussions. Thank you again to all who made our Wildfire: Weather | Water | Weeds | Wildlife Symposium a success! And a special thank you to UCANR’s Sabrina Drill for her tremendous support.



“Symposiums like this are exactly what’s needed to advance research in this area...”

-Dr. Rong Fu on the limited understanding of how wildfire affects drought

A main theme of Day 1 was the drought, fire, and flood cycle. We learned that these cycles are changing throughout the state, worsening threats of wildfire and spurring more questions. Among the challenges are increased fire frequency, particularly in Socal’s chaparral ecosystems, and increased fire intensity which devastates the land’s ability to store water and support native ecosystems. Measures of atmospheric vapor pressure and drier fuel loads over time indicate that climate change is driving conditions for longer fire seasons and larger fires. However, when fire itself is only one of many hazards that wildfires present, the key is to be prepared. Post-fire hazards include fallen trees, rock falls, flash floods in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) and compromised air and water quality. Currently, local agencies including the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works and the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), put out advisories to inform and protect the public from harmful air quality and debris flows. As we learned from Day 1 speakers, the following are promising:

  • Investments in statewide wildfire response programs

  • The adoption of local community wildfire protection plans

  • Pushes for ecologically-sound land management for wildfire

  • The potential for urban planning to reduce fire probability

  • The development and dissemination of guides and toolkits

  • Collaborative partnerships

  • Studies which answer pressing questions and inform strategies to protect our watersheds and communities

Presentation Recaps

Council for Watershed Health (CWH) Executive Director, Eileen Alduenda, and CWH Board Member, Martin Adams, welcomed us into the day. Our keynote speaker, Deputy Secretary Jessica Morse, laid the groundwork to understand wildfire challenges across California and the State’s investments in management strategies. Morse emphasized the tactical advantage of fuel breaks to contain fires and defend communities and shared how the State’s wildfire response has led to pilot programs focused on defensible space, fire prevention grants, workforce development and effective local collaboratives.

Moderated by Dr. Marilyn N. Raphael, Director of Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA, the first round of presenters included Dr. Rong Fu, UCLA Professor in Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Tom Rolinski, Fire Scientist at Southern California Edison, Dr. Max Moritz, UC Cooperative Extension Wildfire Specialist, and Dr. Wallace M. Meyer III, Professor and Director of the Robert J. Bernard Field Station at the Claremont Colleges. Dr. Fu shared her research connecting extreme vapor pressure deficit (VPD) to larger fires, estimating that ⅔ of the VPD increase is due to climate change and rising temperatures. Rolinski shared a method to determine fire season length using the energy release component (ERC), a measure which has a positive relationship with more extreme fire behavior. Based on historical data, Rolinski shares that there is an upward trend in fire season length since 1980. Dr. Moritz has studied fire regimes around the world at a broad scale and at a finer scale in California. At finer scales, his models show that infrastructure is key for predicting fire probability and frequencies as factors like housing density can push fire probability up or down. Dr. Meyer shared how type conversion from Native California Sage Scrub (CSS) to non-native grasses after fires, leads to reduced carbon storage and loss of biodiversity, especially in CSS which hosts unique assemblages of native arthropods.

Moderated by UCANR's Natural Resources Advisor for Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, Dr. Sabrina Drill, the second set of presentations were given by Dawn Petschauer, Dr. Anthony O’Geen, Sterling Klippel, Jeremy Lancaster, Dr. Scott Epstein and Julia Van Soelen Kim. Petchauer, Senior Water Biologist for the City of Los Angeles, Watershed Protection Division, provided an overview of a recently funded project to model and predict post-fire water quality impacts which will inform a monitoring plan and effective management strategies in the Upper LA River Watershed. Through O’Geen’s presentation, we learned how low temperature fires can be beneficial to soils while high temperature fires lead to positive feedback loops of negative outcomes. He goes on to say that the best way to protect soils is to take ecologically-sound measures to prevent catastrophic fires as there are few solutions to repair large expanses of land once soils are damaged. O'Geen is a Professor and Soil Resource Specialist in UC Cooperative Extension at UC Davis. Next, Sterling Klippel, Principal Engineer at Los Angeles County Public Works, reviewed that following a storm, these damaged, post-fire soils put communities at risk for debris flows. Klippel explained the role that L.A. County Public Works plays in forecasting debris flows and advising and evacuating residents. Helpful tools including the After Wildfire Guide, Flood After Fire Toolkit, and the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s (SCAQMD) real-time air quality forecasting application were shared in detail by Jeremy Lancaster, Regional Geologic and Landslides Mapping Program Manager for California Geological Survey, and Scott Epstein, Air Quality Assessment Planning Program Supervisor at the South Coast Air Quality Management Districts. Lastly, a study was presented by UCANR's Food Systems Advisor, Julia Van Soelen Kim, which found that effects of smoke and ash on backyard food gardens did not implicate the safety of produce, according to established thresholds. When compared with all of the risks that fires present, consuming backyard produce grown near burn areas is of low concern and the benefits of eating produce outweigh the risk.

Day 1 Resources


Our sponsor levels are named after wildflowers that grow abundantly following a fire!

Follow Us
  • Grey Facebook Icon
  • Grey Twitter Icon
  • Grey Instagram Icon
Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
bottom of page