Native plant restoration and Silverado Fire in OC

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The Silverado Fire in October burned through Orange County’s Agua Chinon Canyon, a riparian area that the Irvine Ranch Conservancy had just finished restoring. Photo by Susan Valot.

The wind-driven Silverado Fire in Irvine burned 12,466 acres two months ago. The land is a scorched checkerboard with some areas black and barren, and others with signs of life.

Crews and volunteers with the Irvine Ranch Conservancy spent the last five years restoring Agua Chinon Canyon, in the east hills of Irvine, back to its native state, with lush vegetation around the creek. The conservancy had just finished restoring it when the Silverado Fire hit, burning in much of the same footprint as the destructive Santiago Fire did in 2007. That earlier fire churned through 28,445 acres, destroying 16 homes. 

Irvine Ranch Conservancy CEO Michael O’Connell said there is a silver lining from the Silverado Fire. “Part of restoring the habitat means taking out the invasive species before you restore the natives. And if we did a good job of that, it’s unlikely that there are a lot of invasive weeds in there to come back and that it will come back as native plants. We’ve seen that in other areas like some of the restorations after the Woolsey Fire in the Santa Monica Mountains. They’ve actually come back pretty healthy. So we look at this as a big opportunity to study further our restoration methods and see if they are resilient over time.”