By Charly SHELTON
Last August, when fires ripped through Crescenta Valley the first thought on many minds was of the terrible destruction and the hope that no homes would be affected. But the second thought was, “I wonder what it will look like now.”
With all of the plant life burned away, the treasure of what lay hidden underneath was revealed – both man made things like the milk can found from Arden Farms circa 1940s, but also that of nature, specifically the geology.
After the rains and mudslides even more formations are exposed resulting from the nine feet of sediment washed away down the trail at the Deukmejian Wilderness Park. Reporters at the Crescenta Valley Weekly recently had an opportunity to head deep into the mountains, up the trails of the now desolated park to see just how much was burned and what was washed away in the mudslides.
Though the mud has flowed away into the debris basins, the signs of its passing are still evident.
In the mountains of Deukmejian Wilderness Park, the destruction by the Station Fire of the once familiar landscape left this nature park ashen and barren. With the rains that began in October and continue through the present, the park has seen a fair amount of growth in small plants and grasses, as well as the return of wildlife including small mammals, amphibians, reptiles and deer.
Due to the mudflows resulting from the fire and rains, trails are now located on rocks and formations that had been buried beneath the surface up to nine feet deep in some places prior to the fire. This created new trails possibly never seen in this condition by humans.
In the canyons at the end of these trails roots could be seen sticking out from the canyon walls 20 feet from the ground. The roots showed where ground level was before the mudflows.
In other places, where less of the ground was washed away, trees that survived the extreme force of the mudflows served as witnesses to what had happened.
On the north side of some of the trees, mud and debris stuck to the trunks as the mud pushed its way south down the canyon. Remarkably, where the sediment hit, the tree’s bark was scraped off from the sheer force of the flows.
Looking at some of the trees on steady ground, the bark was missing up to about 15 feet. This is evidence that there was a steady mud flow at that height.
Further up the trail there was a sturdy tree that had held up through the flows, but a piece of metal pipe had washed down the hill and hit the tree, intersecting it like a “T.” A log came down after the pipe and they both bent and wrapped around the tree, the log splintering into two frayed sections and the metal conforming to the curve of the tree.
Just 20 feet further, a rebar and concrete wall was torn apart, a 12-foot chunk resting just below the tree in the canyon. The force of the flow was so strong, not only did it uproot giant trees, move boulders and break walls, it bent metal pipes around trees. This flow was a force of nature to be reckoned with.
Scientific consultant and geologist Ron Schmidtling of the Getty Museum in Brentwood joined Glendale park naturalists Russ Hauck and Eric Grossman on a hike up a trail in Deukmejian.
“We have been able to see some recent landslides and there are landslides going on right now [in the park]. That’s one of the reasons people should not go up here because literally, one of the sites we saw could fall any minute,” Schmidtling said. “After a couple of years, it is going to stabilize and plants will come in and the roots will bind it to the bedrock.”
Hauck confirmed that the trails will remain closed for about two years, but Parks and Recreation is trying to get the picnic area near the barn open for this spring, after the winter rains have passed.
This will probably be sometime in May,” said Hauck. “After that, sections of trails will open for walks but not very far up because of the landslide and ground stability issues.”
As for the lasting effects, “The chaparral plant community is born of fire and periodically the old growth is burned off so that new growth can occur,” explained Hauck. “Scores of times over millions of years this has occurred.Fire has burned off the vegetation. Flooding has brought down sediment. The mountains continue to be pushed upward and erosion continues to bring them down. This will happen long after we are gone, [has] happened many times before we got here. It’s only this brief window of time we are focusing on. But in three years time, when the vegetation has returned, this fire and the resulting erosion will be a distant memory.
“It’s part of the natural process, these fires. I don’t want to say that we have been repressing the forest from burning, but when we restrict where fires burn, sometimes they can take off and that’s too bad. However this is part of the natural process,” Schmidtling added.
For information on volunteer efforts, as well as information on the park and plans for the future, visit http://www.ci.glendale.ca.us/parks. To see a video of the hike, visit this week’s podcast at www.cvweekly.com. Another more detailed podcast covering just the hike and the devastation left in the wake of the Station Fire will be online on March 1.