The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden will reopen today after the Jesusita Fire devastated the landscape and destroyed countless rare plants.
Although the extent of the damage is still under evaluation, staff said the garden lost a significant amount of horticulture equipment, vehicles and rare plant species in the blaze. In the wake of the disaster, the Botanic Garden has turned to volunteers in the community to help rebuild and reopen the popular site for visitors.
According to Nancy Johnson, Vice President of Marketing & Government Relations for the Botanic Garden, the damage to the gardens was devastating.
“We’re assessing how much of the land was affected,” Johnson said. “More than 50 percent, at least. But it’s just not a figure we have at this time. We lost 100 percent minus one shovel of all our gardening equipment. We also lost all of the vehicles except one. We tend to 65 acres of a botanic garden…[so] it’s just a massive amount of equipment.”
Some of the lost equipment included power and hand tools, a new tractor, bio-fuel ‘gators’ and other valuable tools.
According to Johnson, preventative measures – such as closely monitoring fire activity, installing new fire hydrants and practicing drills – saved the Botanic Garden from burning down in its entirety and completely prevented human injury.
“Last year we installed fire hydrants, [which] saved the rest of the garden,” Johnson said. “The firemen were on site here and, if they had not had access to that, we would have lost the entire garden.”
Despite the care that was taken to avoid fire damage, Johnson said countless flora still perished in the flames.
“All of our plants are valuable… we specialize in conservation and we have a conservation garden that was spared,” Johnson said. “But all the rare and endangered species in the propagation area were lost. Some of the rarest were able to be saved.”
According to Johnson, the garden saves re-propagation materials for the rare plants and none of the storage freezers for the plant matter were destroyed. With the knowledge that such plants can be reproduced, the Botanic Garden will focus on cleaning up the destroyed land and replenishing their inventory of equipment.
“Right now, we’re going to need a lot of volunteers,” Johnson said. “They have to be fairly hardy because there’s a lot of clean-up to do. We really need cash donations to replace the garden equipment.”
Johnson said the community has already been very proactive in lending a helping hand to the Botanic Garden.
“The community has been wonderful,” Johnson said. “The outpouring has been fantastic.”
Although the Botanic Garden has been closed since the fires, it plans to re-open today for visitors. Johnson said that it is a “fitting day” for the reopening, since it coincides with Plant Conservation Day, Endangered Species Day and International Museum Day.
The Botanic Garden will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is offering a special two for one admission price. There will also be a free lecture by Vice President of Programs & Collections Dr. Dieter Wilken at noon. Individuals interested in volunteering can contact the main office at (805) 682-4726.
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