By: Sharon A. Waechter
Far Western Anthropological Research Group, Inc.
and Dan Foster and Linda Sandelin, CDF

Introduction

California's summers are among the hottest in the country.  Every year there are many days over 100 degrees, sometimes several in a row.  These temperatures, combined with heat and wind, dry fuels, and a human or natural source of ignition, can and often do produce large and potentially devastating wildland fires.  While most Californians may know about CDF's efforts to fight these fires, the general public is probably unaware of the agency's efforts to protect cultural resources at the same time.  Many CDF firefighters receive training in cultural resources protection work, while CDF's team of archaeologists have completed Firefighter I Academy so that they, in turn, can work on the firelines.  Every summer CDF archaeologists Rich Jenkins, Linda Sandelin, Gerrit Fenenga, Chuck Whatford, and Steve Grantham travel from one end of the state to the other, called out at a moment's notice to respond to a request for their services on one of the major wildfires that hit California.   In 2004, these CDF archaeologists were assigned to 22 major fires, from Shasta County in the north to San Diego County in the south, and from Sonoma County on the coast to Amador and Calaveras counties in the Sierran foothills. This article presents information about CDF's efforts to protect archaeological resources during the 2004 Fire Season.

"At 1830 hours tonight I accepted an assignment on the Geysers Incident. I expect to spend upcoming days at Fire Camp and on the fire lines. I'm at the office now (9 PM) gathering quad sheets. I plan on checking in at Fire Camp early tomorrow morning, attending the morning briefing, introducing myself to the Planning Chief, etc.  Then I'll head off to [the Northwest Information Center ] to conduct a records search.  I called [the Information Center Coordinator] at home a few minutes ago.  She's agreed to meet me tomorrow morning. As of earlier today the fire was up to 10,000 acres, less than 10% contained and being driven by a strong north wind. I expect to find that at least 50-100 [archaeological] sites are within the fire area and within its present path."
E-mail message from Chuck Whatford, CDF Archaeologist, September 7, 2004

This message gives a sense of the urgency the CDF archaeologists face when they are assigned to a major fire.  They usually have only hours to gather whatever information they can about the archaeological resources in the fire area, arrive at the fire (sometimes traveling hundreds of miles to get there), check in with fire personnel, and hit the ground running.  Their main goal is to find and flag any known cultural sites in the area and assist CDF's bulldozer operators to go around, rather than through, the sites whenever possible.  If there is time, the archaeologists also try to survey new ground ahead of the fire for any sites that have not already been recorded.

In some ways their hardest task is that first one—gathering information.  Because CDF covers private lands, they do not have the kind of archaeological database that is available to agencies like the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.  And, because fires have a way of starting up on nights and weekends, the archaeologists often can't contact the appropriate State Clearinghouse until a day or two later—sometimes after a bulldozer has unknowingly cut a fire line through an archaeological site. 

The 2004 Fire Season

From May through October of 2004, the five CDF field archaeologists worked on major fires in Shasta, Lassen, Sonoma, Napa, Yolo, Amador, Calaveras, Fresno, Riverside, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and San Diego counties (see table, below).  Together they put in the equivalent of more than four months' time, discovered 72 previously unrecorded archaeological sites, and initiated planning efforts to protect many sites from the fire, suppression, and suppression-repair activites. In some cases, they were able to consult with members of the local Native American community on areas to be protected; for instance, the Winnemem Wintu tribe identified six previously unknown sites on the Bear Fire in Shasta County. The archaeologists also worked closely with Plans Section Chiefs, Local Battalion Chiefs, and other fire personnel to protect as many sites as possible. Overall, 2004 was a very successful year: CDF fire crews and archaeologists were able to protect hundreds of sites during the firestorms.  Most of the known sites escaped with little or no damage from fire suppression, though many were burned over by the fires—probably not for the first time in their long histories.

CDF Archaeologists' 2004 Fire Assignments

                                                     

Archaeologist
Fire

Location
(County)

Days in
Field

Dates in
Field

Acres
Burned

Known
Sites

New
Sites

 

Rich Jenkins

Cottonwood

Riverside

3

May 13-15

1,845

0

0

Gatos

Fresno

3

July 12-14

1,307

2

0

Mataguay

San Diego

6

July 14-19

8,867

21

2

Straylor

Lassen

9

July 23-30

3,422

97

1

Bear

Shasta

6

Aug. 11-16

10,484

55

19

French

Shasta

11

Aug. 16-26

13,005

35

2

 

Linda Sandelin

Eagle

Riverside

6

May 3-8

8,831

0

0

Gaviota

Santa Barbara

8

June 5-12

7,440

80

?

Gatos

Fresno

2

July 12-13

1,307

2

?

Peterson

Fresno

3

July 13-15

73

6

?

Foothill

Los Angeles

3

July 18-20

6,002

50

2

Crown

Los Angeles

4

July 21-24

18,026

25

2

Copper
(Calaveras Complex)

-

6

Aug. 6-11

2,500

5

0

Armstrong/Mineral
(Calaveras Complex)

Calaveras

6

Aug. 6-11

4,411

4

12

Hunt

Calaveras

3

Aug. 11-13

600

6

0

Pattison Complex

"TCU"

4

Sept. 4-7

2,676

1

10

Power

Amador

4

Oct. 14-17

16,800

?

?

 

Chuck Whatford

Bear

Shasta

5

Aug. 12-16

10, 484

see above

see above

French

Shasta

3

Aug. 16-18

13,005

see above

see above

Geysers

Sonoma

7

Sept. 4-10

12,525

33

0

Rumsey

Napa , Yolo

7

Oct. 12-18

39,138

21

7

 

Gerrit Fenenga

Cerrito

Riverside

7

May 3-9

16,460

26

5

Melton

Riverside

5

July 18-22

3,667

1

6

Old Highway

Mariposa

5

Sept. 12-16

1,413

1

4

 

Steve Grantham

Geysers

Sonoma

9

Sept. 4-12

12,525

see above

see above

Power

Amador

4

Oct 14-17

16,800

see above

see above

 

Total

 

139

 

 

471

72