As in most Mediterranean areas of the world, fire is a dominant element in the parks due to the annual occurrence of extreme fire weather and the naturally flammable properties of shrubland vegetation. In mainland coastal California the natural (pre-historic) fire frequency is about 100 years between fires, but is now widely altered at one of the three Mediterranean parks.

  • Fires at Cabrillo National Monument have been extremely rare, due to its geographic isolation and relatively cool, moist marine climate. Fire is naturally less frequent there than in other coastal areas. Fire suppression programs implemented by nearby maritime and military facilities have helped preserve Point Loma’s natural fire regime over the last century even as large scale urban development has transformed the region. Most vegetation on the peninsula has not burned in at least 80 years. Fires on the Channel Islands are also uncommon, because there are few sources of ignition, and the cool, foggy, maritime climate frequently limits the potential for fire spread. Several island taxa have relaxed fire-adapted traits such as serotiny and seed germination that are more characteristic in mainland taxa. This suggests that fire has been much less frequent on the islands than on the adjacent mainland for a very long time.
  • In the Santa Monica Mountains, greater exposure to Santa Ana winds and more potential sources of fire starts produced a higher pre-historic fire frequency than the other two parks. Modern urbanization has resulted in a steady increase in fire starts, some of which inevitably occur during extreme fire weather. This has greatly increased the frequency of large fires, creating threats to public safety and damaging native ecosystems. The park has an active fire management program to protect both the park's Mediterranean ecosystem and surrounding local communities by understanding fire's role in the our local environment.

Learn more about the park's fire science program from the links below.