Cedar Fire, California’s largest

Map of Cedar and Laguna Fires

Above: map of Cedar and Laguna Fires. USFS map by Corey Ferguson.

We continue to find retrospective articles about the largest fire in the history of California, the Cedar Fire, that started 10 years ago this month, on October 25, 2003. One of the more interesting is an animation of the spread of the fire which was initially pushed by very strong Santa Ana winds blowing from the northeast and east.

The fire was started by a hunter that got lost and wanted to improve his chances of being found. The 273,246-acre fire accomplished that goal and then some.

Just yesterday a hiker from Redlands, California who had been missing for nearly a week was found stranded in Coldwater Canyon about five miles above Arrowhead Springs Resort after he started a fire to stay warm, but the fire grew out of control. He was rescued after firefighters responded to suppress the fire which had spread to an area about 20 by 30 feet.

The San Diego Union-Tribune has an article that examines how the vegetation is recovering from the 2003 Cedar Fire. Below is an excerpt:

…The Cedar Fire and subsequent burns in 2007 wiped out more than half of the mixed conifer in San Diego County, according to park documents. Cuyamaca [State Park] saw the worst of it. Before the fire, conifers covered about 40 percent of the park, in pine-oak woodlands and mixed conifer forest, [Mike Puzzo, an environmental scientist with the park] said. All but a few stands were incinerated.

A decade later, the alien terrain left after the blaze is recovering to varying degrees. In some spots, such as Fern Flat, charred stumps are surrounded by what Puzzo called a “monoculture” of ceanothus.

In nearby West Mesa, where the fire burned less intensely, signs are more encouraging. Scrub and saplings mingle with 15 to 20 foot oak trees which shot up since the fire. Several miles away, in a meadow near Los Vaqueros, some large pines survived, and new ones are cropping up.

“I think this place is recovering very nicely,” Puzzo said. “This right here is a good representation of what a fire should do. Some is dead, but a lot is still alive.”

Sign in the Cedar Fire area
Sign within the Cedar Fire five months after the fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The video below appears to have been shot by a homeowner in Poway as the Cedar fire burned near his home.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.