6 Years Healing a Burn Area Changed Me Forever

The Sayre Fire of 2008 burned over 11,000 acres in Sylmar and resulted in the loss of nearly 500 homes. It was the worst loss of homes due to fire in LA’s history. That Thanksgiving, I happened to be taking my first trip to Los Angeles. I remember passing the destruction on the way out of town and feeling shivers at the charred landscape, a burnt-out bricolage of black, gray and ashen white. I had never seen evidence of a wildfire so close. Recognizing the fire’s sheer natural force was terrifying.

It wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles the following year, and started volunteering with TreePeople, that I realized my work was helping to restore the very same burn area.

Danny Carmichael, TreePeople’s Forestry Projects Senior Manager

TreePeople’s commitment to Stetson Ranch began in 2009, with a huge planting event that combined the efforts of LA City Department of Recreation and Parks, and several of the Million Trees LA (now City Plants), as well as several local non-profits, members of the Sylmar community and over 200 TreePeople volunteers. That day we planted 168 trees. Since then, we’ve planted an additional 150, and have returned often to care for the young trees, pull weeds and spread mulch throughout the park.

I volunteered at Stetson Ranch Park several more times before getting hired into TreePeople’s Forestry department. I eventually ended up leading those events. It stuns me to think back to that gray morning, the sky filled with ashes, and to reflect on how much the park has changed.

In the past six years, I have led 19 events at Stetson Ranch Park. It has ebbed and flowed through spring rains and summer heat, flooding and drought. Some trees have died and been replaced. Some shot up immediately, some others took the slow and steady approach. And while I have led events at over 70 different sites since joining TreePeople’s Forestry team, Stetson Ranch is still the site that I consider “my baby.” It’s the place where I was first infected with the TreePeople “bug.” It’s the place that taught me about the importance of this work–coming together with local communities to help nature to heal our cities.

On Saturday, March 5, I’m proud to announce that we will graduate Stetson Ranch Park from our tree care program. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll never go back to Stetson Ranch, but the trees are doing so well, we are confident of their future success. That frees us up to care for other areas needing support as we march into another year of extreme weather.

If you never saw Stetson Ranch Park in the aftermath of the Sayre Fire, we’re proud to say that you’d be hard-pressed to find evidence of that terrible blaze in the park today.

Want to join in on the fun? Roll up your sleeves with us on March 5th to admire the trees and help us restore the area back to its original beauty. 


By Danny Carmichael

Danny Carmichael is the Forestry Projects Senior Manager at TreePeople. He began his journey with TreePeople as a volunteer and maintains that passion for volunteerism today, donating his time with the Pasadena Symphony Orchestra as an usher and at Franklin Canyon as a docent and hike leader.