Gone But Not Forgotten

California’s oldest park was devastated by the CZU Lightning Complex fires, leaving behind ashes but also hope for regrowth

Located in the Redwoods State Park, spanning over 18,000 acres, Big Basin is home to some of the largest redwoods in California. Many of these towering trees have been around for thousands of years, standing strong through numerous natural disasters.

There are far more than just trees in this park, with over 80 miles of trail to choose from and countless campsites, Big Basin has been a special spot to many Paly students, as a place to go out and enjoy nature. 

When flames engulfed the state park in August many, like Cal Fire forester Colin Noyes, feared for the loss of these ancient trees and the future of the park. 

Photo Courtesy of Colin Noyes

“I watched this fire burn from top to bottom that night,” Noyes said. However, the redwood trees remained standing upright throughout the fire’s progression, appearing to have survived the blow. 

Despite this, Noyes expects that the appearance of the trees is far from their reality. While many people assume that redwood trees will substand fires, that is in fact the opposite of what happened.

“You know, the common misnomer nowadays is that the redwoods aren’t affected by fire. Well, a lot of these redwoods are probably gonna die,” said Noyes. “The look, the feel, the appearance [of this park]; all that stuff’s been changed for our lifetime, without a doubt.” 

The bark of a redwood tree has adapted over time and is made up of various compounds to help protect it from fire. Nonetheless, the bark can only protect against so much. Noyes explained that for many of the older trees in this forest, it is unlikely we will see them recover. 

I watched this fire burn from top to bottom that night.”

— Colin Noyes, Cal Fire Forester

“It’s never gonna be the way it was, for at least four-hundred years,” Noyes said. 

According to Paly AP environmental science teacher Nicole Loomis, regardless of the damage they cause, fires do have some beneficial environmental impacts. 

“While it looks horrible in a lot of cases, a lot of regeneration happens after that fire,” Loomis said. The regeneration, while it can be over long periods of time, is part of the forest’s natural cycle. 

Over time, large amounts of dead leaves, pinecones and other foliage pile up on the forest floor, making it hard for new life to flourish. Then, a storm comes, “you get a lightning strike, and boom, there it goes and there’s so much fuel that it spreads very quickly,” Loomis said. During wildfires, this dead and dying foliage burns up, and is returned back to the soil, creating a cleared out, nutrient-rich landscape, ready for re-growth. 

When disaster struck this park, the physical damage was tragic, yet for many individuals including Catherine Reller, a senior at Paly, memories from this park will be kept forever. 

Every year at Addison Elementary School, there was an auction to raise money for the school, and in first grade Reller’s dad decided to organize a father-daughter overnight trip to Big Basin. After the first year, it became a recurring event until 6th or 7th grade. 

Photo Courtesy of Catherine Reller

“It was something I looked forward to every year because we had so much freedom to go wherever we wanted,” Reller said.

Like many others who cherished the park, when Reller heard that the park had been devastated from the wildfire, she was in shock.

“I was just confused, and saddened by it, because I had so many memories there, and I always looked forward to going,” Reller said.

Although her camping trips ended shortly after middle school started, she managed to make her way back for different hikes throughout the park every year. Reller would often go with her family, but now knowing that she won’t be able to see the beauty of Big Basin like it was, makes her disheartened.

One memory at Big Basin that Reller holds close to her was on the annual camping trip when she and two other girls went to go find an imaginary place called ‘paradise.’ 

It was something I looked forward to every year because we had so much freedom to go wherever we wanted.”

— Catherine Reller, senior

“It never existed, there wasn’t a set place we had in mind, but we were like ‘oh paradise is this way’ or ‘oh no it’s this way’,” Reller said.

For Reller and many other individuals, it was being outdoors surrounded by the redwood trees that made Big Basin so special to her. Endless hours spent wandering around seeing all of Mother Nature’s beauty.

This fire left the beloved California State Park in ruins, trees were obliterated, and many people lost a place that they loved. However, this fire was unable to erase the memories that so many people have created over the years. 

Big Basin has been changed forever, but the memories will never be forgotten. The floors of the desolate forest may be bare, but somewhere, deep beneath the ash-covered soil, is a seed that struggled through the dirt and shadow, and will soon burst into the light, unravelling itself along with the new age of Big Basin.