The Emerald Fire, Costal Sage Scrub, and You

Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG.

The Emerald Fire of 2022 burned 155 acres of hillside adjacent to and in Crystal Cove State Park, Orange County, up-slope of the Emerald Bay and Irvine Cove communities. This fire, ignited by overhead power lines, burned in an area called the wildland urban interface (WUI), a space where natural habitat meets urban areas such as housing, businesses, or park facilities.

Fire has been part of California’s landscape for thousands of years, and many of our ecosystems have evolved with fire. For example, California’s coastal sage scrub environments are well-adapted to periodic fires (every 10-20 years) which help stimulate the soil’s seed bank and cause shrubs to resprout from the burned remains. However, the new “normal” in California’s WUIs and beyond includes more frequent and more intense wildfires than previous decades. Since 1920, fires in California have become more frequent and larger due to changing climate conditions and urbanization, putting these habitats at risk when they cannot adapt and recover from fires year after year. Coastal sage scrub specifically has faced devastating habitat loss throughout the state, and frequent fires could contribute to further loss of this endangered habitat if it is not conserved or restored.

Fortunately, the 2022 Emerald Fire was preceded most recently only by the Laguna Beach Fire in 1993. Thanks to State Parks’ management, volunteers, and others who aid in keeping Crystal Cove’s habitats in good shape, we expect to see great recovery of coastal sage scrub after this fire event, but we need your help! By participating in this community science photo monitoring project, we hope to use this burn site as an opportunity to monitor the recovery of coastal sage scrub post-wildfire, which is where you come in!

Help us study how landscapes respond to fire

The Project

Look for a sign like this on the trails!

In conjunction with California State Parks, Natural Resource Interns from Crystal Cove Conservancy developed a project to install photo monitoring sites at two locations along the Moro Ridge Trail in the Summer/Fall of 2022. The goal of this project is to observe long-term, landscape-level habitat recovery post-fire.

By taking photos and posting to social media using the specified hashtags, visitors are contributing to a three-year long qualitative study of vegetation regrowth and change after the 2022 Emerald Fire. Using this photo data, Parks managers can examine patterns of change in regrowth after fire over time, highlighting areas that may need more help recovering such as areas overcome with invasive plants or places that have low vegetation density.

How You Can Help

Take a hike! The burn scar borders the Moro Ridge Trail at Crystal Cove State Park. The first site is located near the top of the BFI trail and the second site is located just a quick hike away further down the trail.

  1. Place your phone in landscape position on the indicated bracket attached to the sign and snap a photo of the scenery. Avoid editing the image and do not zoom in or use filters.
  2. Post the photo on Twitter with the hashtag designated on the sign.
  3. See your posts in action as well as other photos from fellow citizen scientists!
  4. Check back again on your next hike or keep up with the project online.

To observe habitat recovery over time, updated images will be posted on this page periodically (scroll down). In the wake of changing fire regimes and increased risk of habitat loss within the wildland urban interface, your contribution will provide State Parks land managers with invaluable data about vegetation recovery within the Emerald Fire’s burn site post-fire and help conserve local natural resources.

Look through the slider below to see the progression of habitat recovery at the Emerald Fire site!



Get Crystal Cove in your inbox!