On Friday, May 22, Sonoma Ecology Center and its partners conducted a 35-acre prescribed burn at Van Hoosear Wildflower Preserve west of Sonoma. The burn was a success—and a glimpse at our possible future here in Sonoma Valley.

As Restoration Program Manager Jason Mills put it, “It’s one small step for prescribed fire in the Sonoma Valley, one giant step for grassland management in California.”

Research Program Manager (and ace moviemaker) Steven Lee took drone footage during the event, and used it to make a mesmerizing video showing the fire’s progression. We still love watching it, and wanted to share it again with you.

We also have more pictures from the day of the event and the days leading up to it, and Jason has shared them here.

Why was the Van Hoosear prescribed burn a success? Because it cleared a large swath of Sonoma Valley grassland of flammable invasive weeds that would otherwise have not been possible to control within our budget. This area of Van Hoosear had been overrun with medusahead, a nonnative grass that spreads quickly, creating a thick layer of dry thatch over time. Cattle won’t eat it and wildflowers can’t grow through it—but medusahead does not handle fire as well as native plants do.

The controlled fire of May 22 burned away the medusahead thatch, making room for native wildflowers to once again germinate. Our ecologists will continue to monitor the burned area over time to see how its plants and wildlife fare—giving the Valley another good demonstration of how to prepare for wildfire effectively and sustainably.

The Van Hoosear prescribed burn required an incredible group effort by our staff. In their expert work planning, preparing and executing the burn, the entire Restoration team was essential. Restoration Program Manager Jason Mills was project leader; Restoration Specialist and Crew Leader Garrett Gradillas prepared the initial draft of the burn plan and led the crew overseeing a large section of the 35 acre-burn, while the entire Restoration team completed the preparation work mowing and cutting the fuel breaks around the burn unit; Senior Project Manager Caitlin Cornwall provided key logistical support; and besides operating the drone, Steve Lee and Research Project Manager Wendy Hayes recorded weather conditions and gathered crucial preliminary data. We’re grateful to be able to work together with such an amazing team.

That goes for our partners as well—it takes many hands and skill-sets to produce a successful prescribed burn. Thanks go to the Preserve’s owners for supporting the burn, Good Fire Alliance for bringing personnel, equipment, and expertise, Prometheus Fire Consulting for being our burn boss, Audubon Canyon Ranch’s Fire Forward program for promoting prescribed fire, Sonoma County Ag + Open Space for supporting the burn, and Mendocino Volunteer Fire Department and Santa Clara County Parks for sending engines and personnel.