Fire in the news

Wild fires in California condor habitat make news for many reasons.

To provide some perspective on humans’ concerns about wild fires and condors, here is a look at how newspapers have reported on fires and condors.

I searched my California condor bibliography for newspaper articles published prior to 2000 that include the words fire, burn, or flame in the title, and that concern wild fires (I excluded articles such as “3 Gunshots are Fired at Condor”).

My search yielded 46 articles published during the years 1932-1999. Of the 46 articles, 16 also included the word condor in the title.

Nearly two-thirds of the 46 articles appeared in the Los Angeles Times. The others were published in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, New York Times, or Washington Post.

The oldest article is “Flames May Unlock Secrets” (Los Angeles Times 13 September 1932). Here are excerpts:

Where the big brush fire north of Ojai and south of the Cuyama is now raging is probably the wildest and least known portion of California….

There are in that country areas … which have never been trod by a white man, and probably seldom by an Indian. There live the California condor …

The 2nd oldest article is more typical of those to come: “1000-Acre Brush Fire Controlled” (Los Angeles Times 7 November 1956). This article includes:

Fed by 25 m.p.h. east winds, the flames menaced a rugged area containing thousands of acres of heavy brush that provide sanctuary for the last 60 condors in California.

(Of course, that means the last 60 California condors on Earth.)

Some articles included more details about condors, such as “California’s Biggest Brush Fire of Year Raging out of Control” (Los Angeles Times 24 August 1972):

… flames from the Ventura County fire had driven to within a half mile of the Sespe Creek condor sanctuary …

… erratic winds from the southwest continued to threaten to spread the flames and endanger the home of the nearly extinct bird, officials said.

Dean Carrier, a biologist for the Forest Service, said most of the condors were hunting in the Sierra Nevada as is their usual practice at this time of year.

Several of the birds were spotted in the sanctuary Wednesday morning, but left after detecting the smoke, Carrier said.

Of the article titles that made the connection between fire and condors, most focused on the threat to habitat, for example: “Fire Endangers Condor Habitat” (Los Angeles Times 2 August 1982). But one article title saw the threat of fire as being to the birds themselves: “10-Day Heat Mark Tied; Fire Perils California Condors” (Los Angeles Times 8 August 1971).

Other article titles offered good news about condor habitat or the birds, such as “Condor Area Fire Controlled; Heat Follows Thunderstorms” (Los Angeles Times 6 August 1970) and “California Condors Safe from Fire” (Iowa City Press-Citizen 29 June 1965).

One article’s title emphasized the work of humans to protect condors from fire: “Coast Firefighters Guard Sanctuary for Wildlife” (New York Times 18 October 1985).

An item that especially drew my attention is “Fire Halted Short of Condor Release Area” (Los Angeles Times 1 August 1994). The fire in question was a potential threat to the reintroduction of captive-bred condors to the wild. These are excerpts:

Hacking their way through rugged chaparral-filled canyons, 500 firefighters Sunday blocked the advance of a fire that threatened the remote ridgetop site in Santa Barbara County where scientists release condors into the wild….

The flames did not endanger the Sisquoc Condor Sanctuary, where regulations discourage the use of airborne firefighting equipment. The refuge for the handful of survivors of the ancient, broad-winged avian breed lies several miles farther south …

Fanned by a westerly breeze, flames moved uphill toward Montgomery Potrero, an ancient Chumash Indian site near the spot where the condor program maintains a few temporary structures.

Another item that stood out is “Firefighters Cheered Over Limited Damage” (Los Angeles Times 18 October 1985). Here is what caught my eye:

Ironically, … the fire could provide long-term benefits to the condors by burning the brush and allowing new brush and grass to grow. That would attract more small wildlife and bolster the birds’ currently sparse food supply …

There are more newspaper articles about wildfires and California condors that do not include the words fire, burn, or flame in the title. I am still sorting through these.

I did not include the authors of the articles above. But that is not because I do not value their efforts. Please see the post Journalists.

For a notable story of fire and California condors, see the post The man in black.

There is much more on this blog about California condors in newspapers, going back nearly 200 years. To find these posts, click on the NEWSPAPERS button under FIND CONTENT, somewhere on this screen (depending on your device).