San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Exhibits

Earth, Wind & WILDFIRE

Winner of Western Museums Association Exhibition Excellence Award!

Earth, Wind & WILDFIRE photos

This exhibition closed April 1, 2007

Exhibit Overview | Our Place on Earth | The Power of Wildfire | Living with Fire
Resources | Related Programs | Teacher's Guide (PDF format*) - English - Spanish

Do you live in a hotspot?  Why do you value nature?  Is fire good for healthy habitats?
 How many species can we lose before an ecosystem collapses?
  Why not let wildfires burn?  What can you do to your house to reduce fire risk?

Fire has the power of transformation. Change and transformation can be painful and can be filled with opportunity.
Read exhibition opening statement by
Co-curator, Nancy Owens Renner

Earth, Wind & Wildfire exhibition wall

Earth, Wind & WILDFIRE is a comprehensive exhibition that explores the powerful forces that shape the landscape of southern California: fire, nature, and people. This exhibition is a testimonial to the splendor of nature, the power and inevitability of fire, the responsibility humans have for living with nature and fire, and the inspiration of recovery in nature and the community.

"We hope visitors will come away with a sense of awe for both the splendor of nature and the power of fire, and with a sense of responsibility for living in this fire-dependent place," explained Exhibition Co-curator Dr. Anne Fege. Designed to raise awareness of the history and inevitability of fire in southern California's arid and diverse wildlands, Earth, Wind & WILDFIRE employs objects, videos, photographs, and interactive displays.

The purpose of Earth, Wind & WILDFIRE is to explore the powerful forces that shape our region—nature, fire, and people—and to ask, "How can we co-exist with fire and nature?" Co-curator Anne Fege suggests that visitors will leave the exhibition with these take-home messages:

Listen and Learn – Recorded Lectures

•  The Fire Environment
    - Fire Basics by Michael Scott, Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District
    - Local Habitats by Mark Dodero, RECON Environmental
    - Local Fire Ecology by Richard W. Halsey, California Chaparral Institute
(85 minutes).

•   Building Materials and Design
by Cliff Hunter, Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District (52 minutes).

•   Home and Community Site Design / Survivable Space and Fuel Management
by Terrance Lien, City of San Diego, Development Services (32 minutes).

• The biodiversity of San Diego County is unparalleled, and uniquely adapted to low rainfall, rugged topography, and wildfires.

• Fires have become more frequent with growth in human population. When fire is too frequent in coastal sage scrub and chaparral ecosystems, habitats cannot recover and are converted to dramatically different types.

• With fire-wise planning and design of communities and structures, we can reduce risk to human life and property and preserve native biological communities.

• As humans, we can reduce our vulnerability to large fires by understanding and respecting the power of fire and the value of nature, and by adjusting our developments and our lifestyles to the setting we choose to live in.


Our Place on Earth—San Diego is a "hotspot."

  • People love it here—where else might residents or visitors, on a summer day, walk in the desert shadows as the sun rises, hike in the cool shade of pine trees in a mountain meadow at noon, and stroll on the beach as the sun sets?
  • The county is among the top ten "hotspots" for biodiversity in the U.S.; more species have been reported here than in any other county in the U.S.
  • We have been a "hotspot" for rapid development for 60 years, resulting in elimination of many natural habitats and fragmentation of others.
  • We are literally a "hotspot" with fire being part of this landscape for thousands of years. Fires are inevitable in San Diego County—the weather is warm, sunny, dry, and sometimes windy. When driven by Santa Ana winds, fire will burn until the winds stop blowing.
Fire is inevitable in arid Southern California. With extreme winds, firestorms (like hurricanes and earthquakes) are unstoppable.

Earth, Wind & Wildfire burned toy truck

Nature adapts to normal fires. Many plants and animals are adapted to fire, with many different responses: some can escape and may recolonize later; some can regenerate from seeds or resprout; while others may be wiped out.

It is difficult for nature to recover from frequent fires. Our southern California ecosystems face threats to their health, even survival. Fires have become more frequent with growth in human population, creating a situation in which habitats cannot recover and are changed dramatically. When burned too frequently, whether by wildfires or prescribed burns, chaparral and coastal sage scrub will be taken over by highly flammable, weedy, non-native grasslands that burn even more often.


The Power of Wildfire

Fires take on a life of their own. When Santa Ana winds are not blowing, these fuel- or topography-driven blazes are quickly suppressed, credited to the world's most experienced wildland firefighters. However, when these fierce winds create 60-mile-per-hour gusts and humidity is almost zero, wildfires burn out of control and quickly outstrip the firefighting resources until the weather changes.


Living with Fire

Drawing on our history and creativity, we can learn to live with fire and nature.

Earth, Wind & Wildfire build safe interactive

People can learn to adapt to the inevitability of fire. Wildfires cannot be prevented, but we can prepare for them, as we do for earthquakes and floods. Loss of life and property can be minimized by planning low-fire risk communities, building survivable structures, and maintaining defensible space.

Dr. Anne S. Fege, co-curator of Earth, Wind & WILDFIRE, is currently a Botany Research Associate at the San Diego Natural History Museum. Dr. Fege retired on May 15, 2004, as the Forest Supervisor of the Cleveland National Forest, where she was responsible since 1991 for managing 450,000 acres in Orange, Riverside, and San Diego counties for watershed values, habitat for native plants and animals, recreation and other uses, wildland fire management, and open space. She is widely known as a co-founder of the San Diego Partners for Biodiversity and San Diego Fire Recovery Network, and recently earned a Masters in Business Administration at San Diego State University.
Nancy Owens Renner, co-curator of Earth, Wind & WILDFIRE, believes in the power of education to address social and ecological issues. Nancy has worked in museums for 16 years, designing, developing, and evaluating exhibitions. She has also worked for regional nature centers and conservation organizations, including Torrey Pines State Reserve, Chula Vista Nature Center, and the Catalina Island Conservancy. Her involvement with the Unitarian Cooperative Preschool, San Diego Cooperative Charter School, and the Institute for Learning Innovation has shaped her educational philosophy, which emphasizes empowering learners to explore and think critically and creatively. She is a member of the American Association of Museums, National Association of Museum Exhibition, Visitor Studies Association, San Diego Evaluators Group, and the California Native Plant Society.


Exhibition made possible in part by  Exhibit made possible by SDG&E  and  10 News San Diego's News Leader

Fire photos courtesy The San Diego Union-Tribune. Regrowth and nature photos courtesy Wendy Slijk.

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