Preparing for winter following a wildfire

Written By: Anya Starovoytov, Project Manager
Published: October 1, 2018

Hazy air drifting down from the ongoing wildfire activity up north is an unpleasant reminder of last October. But, it’s an important reminder that besides our community, the landscape around us is also still in recovery. Additional measures and attention may be necessary in the next winter or two, to keep damaged areas stable and on track to regrow and thrive.

Wildfire experts note that burned areas with reduced or damaged vegetation can experience increased runoff, erosion, and instability in the following 2 or 3 winters. Reduced or damaged vegetation increases the amount of water flowing through our drainage systems, potentially taxing their limits. A loss of trees and leaf litter exposes more soil to direct impact from rain drops, potentially increasing erosion risks. Damaged trees may become liabilities, more vulnerable to uprooting from wind gusts or saturated soil conditions.

Below are 8 basic rules to remember as we get into the winter rainy season:
(adopted from USDA NRCS publication by Rich Casale)

1. Keep it under cover and don’t disturb soils (especially on sloped terrain) during the rainy season.
Protect existing plant cover or establish vegetation where soil is bare. Mulches can also be used to protect soils, where seeding isn’t a good option. Please note: seeding or mulching is generally not advised in wildland areas, to promote native plant recovery.

2. Evaluate your stormwater drainage system ahead of the rain.
Check and clear culverts at both inlets and outlets, inspect areas around outlets for signs of erosion, look for ways to disperse and slow down stormwater flow. Ensure all plastic culverts are in-tact (many burned completely or partially).

3. Install trash posts at culvert inlets with woody vegetation upstream, to prevent debris plugs in heavy rain events.
Sonoma RCD can provide a typical drawing and guidance on proper installation.

4. Remember to monitor and maintain any erosion or sediment control measures.
Check any areas re-seeded since the wildfires for good vegetative cover; inspect any wattles or barriers to ensure they are functioning properly; remove any built-up sediment to maintain capacity for this year’s storms. Re-check areas after rain events.

5. Seek out professional guidance when installing temporary practices (sand bags, plastic sheeting, hand dug ditches, etc.) and for any practices to control runoff or address slope stabilization.
An improperly designed or installed emergency practice can be worse than no practice at all and it can create new problems elsewhere.

6. Inspect fire-damaged trees that may be a hazard to living structures or roads with assistance from a qualified professional.
Avoid removing healthy or slightly damaged trees. Even damaged trees, if not posing a risk to life or property, provide support through their root systems keeping soils and slopes in-place along with offering some protection to the soil from raindrop impact.

7. Work with neighboring property owners when deciding on solutions for drainage or runoff issues.
Better communication can lead to better long-term solutions. You may be responsible for potential off-site impacts from actions you take to control storm runoff.

8. Be prepared and don’t stay inside the home, if conditions become unsafe.
Maintain emergency supplies, sign up for emergency alerts such as SoCo Alert, and heed warnings from officials during major storm events.

Contact Sonoma RCD at (707) 569-1448 if you need technical assistance with diagnosing erosion and water management concerns before and after the onset for the rainy season. You can also find more information about our services and other local resources on our website:

Other links/resources to add for e-version:

Sonoma RCD’s Natural Resources Recovery Guide:

California Native Plant Society Fire Recovery Guide: (limited hard copies available at Sonoma RCD office)

Sonoma County Recovers:

Living with Fire:

Post-Fire Do’s and Don’ts:

Straw Wattle Typical Drawing:

Related Articles

Premium Members

To represent, protect and advance the social, economic and educational interests of the farmers and ranchers of Sonoma County.