black charred wildfire log

Life Giver

Everyone talks about carbon, but it's almost always invisible. It takes the searing, stripping heat of fire to make it appear.

Everything alive, from whale to redwood to human, is built from the essential element carbon. It’s literally the key ingredient of molecules that form life. But we can’t see the carbon around us, even though it’s everywhere.

Unless you’re walking in the wake of recent wildfires. Despite the destruction, and the closed trails, and the vast acres of scrawny blackened poles where forests once grew, fire also renews and restores. The black material on the burnt trunk is carbon, exposed. The ash left behind the fires is also recycled minerals for a new generation of life. In California, life is adapted to fire. So much so that nearly 40% of the plant species now depend on fire to reproduce.

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Fires swept the slopes along Ridge Trail on the south side of Annadel State Park with varying intensities in 2017, exposing some of the forest's hidden carbon.