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Volunteers clean up fire damage at preserve

4 July 2004

By HILDY MEDINA
NEWS-PRESSTAFF WRITER

Armed with chain saws, pruning shears and a lot of muscle, volunteers at the Arroyo Hondo Preserve on Saturday cleaned up piles of dead brush and downed trees -- debris from last month's Gaviota fire.

Twenty-seven people took part in the daylong cleanup, clearing areas in and around the creeks and trails to prepare for the preserve's reopening on July 17.

The Gaviota fire, which burned more than 7,000 acres, whipped through the preserve -- nearly overrunning its historic adobe structure and scorching 280 of the site's 782 acres -- before it was put out. A bay tree forest nestled in the preserve also was saved.

"The firefighters did a really good job of keeping the fire away from the valley," said Michael Feeney, a volunteer and executive director of The Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, which owns and manages the preserve. "Now we're doing what we can to help Mother Nature out."

Fire crews battling the blaze had to cut down trees and thick brush to make way for equipment and create a fire line. What was left were piles of dead and scorched foliage.

"It's really just housekeeping on a massive scale," said Russell Pearson, a docent and volunteer who spent most of the morning cutting up a large sycamore tree that was lying across a trail. "I didn't think that tree was that big."

The sycamore's limbs and branches were put through a wood chipper and the chips used for mulch.

The cleaning crew also checked for loose rocks along the scorched hillside and cut any broken limbs they came across. One of their top priorities was clearing up the creeks to prevent any blockages when the rains come.

Karen Feeney, who has volunteered in numerous habitat restoration projects at the preserve, said she was anxious to see if any rejuvenation had begun in the areas burned in the fire.

"When I saw that it already started to repair itself, it gave me a chill," said Ms. Feeney, who spotted several sprouts shooting up from the scorched earth.

For information about visiting the preserve, call 567-1115.

e-mail: hmedina@newspress.com