San Gabriel Valley Tribune


San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Article Published: Sunday, September 14, 2003

ARTICLES IN THIS SECTION

9/14/2003
- Under Siege
- Cartels growing pot in forest
- Forest at crossoads over public use
- Lake not so crystal
- Fire threat still high, officials say
- Facing Extinction
9/15/2003
- Masses and Messes
- A foul problem: garbage
- Groups spread blame for forest damage
- Forest dwellers have created their share of problems
9/16/2003
- 'Static' budget hinders forest
- Bad roads hinder vistor, fire vehicle access
- Adventure Pass raises funds, eyebrows
9/17/2003
- Saving the forest a tall task

SPECIAL REPORT: ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST

Fire threat still high, officials say

By Diana L. Roemer

ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST -- It's not as charred as Yellowstone Park, which is still sparse and blackened from the devastating fires of 1988. But many agree it is bad.

A year after the record-setting Curve and Williams fires, which burned about 60,000 acres, the Angeles National Forest struggles to heal.

And the fire threat is greater than ever - a fire occurs in the forest about every week.

"There isn't enough money from the federal government to keep up with them," said Jody Cook, forest supervisor.

Not with acres of dry landscape and visitors who light fires. All it takes is a spark. Fires are started by candles, barbecues, propane tanks and even piles of animal dung. The Curve Fire was caused by ritualistic votive candles lighted - one theory goes - by cultists holding ceremonies in the hills.

The long-term impacts of fire: on the good side, it allows sunlight to reach the forest floor; on the bad side, it wipes out vegetation and drives away certain animals.

Forest wildfires have become such a problem nationwide --7.2 million acres burned in the past year -- that President Bush issued mandates to the Department of Agriculture: Thin forests and do it now.

The House of Representatives recently passed HR 1704, a bill that will increase tree and brush-cutting in the wake of the 2002 wildland fire season that cost the nation $1.6 billion.

Trailbuilders
San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders volunteers go through a safety briefing before beginning work on the Windy Gap and Big Cienega trails in an area burned by the Curve Fire above Crystal Lake. (Staff photo by Bernardo Alps)
The combustible condition is the result of an 80- to 100-year fire suppression policy that left too much vegetation, according to County Agricultural Commissioner Cato R. Fiksdal.

"These policies have resulted in the unnatural buildup of forest vegetation that have fueled recent large disastrous fires on public and private lands," Fiksdal wrote in a July memo to Los Angeles County officials.

Fiksdal said the buildup also led to bark beetle infestations. Locally, more than 1 million dead conifers stand in the San Bernardino National Forest, victims of the bark beetle, which thrives on dry trees.

In April, the Forest Service found that at least 60 percent of the vegetation was dead on nearly 43,000 acres in the San Bernardino National Forest. And more dead trees may be on the horizon.

"Pine tree mortality in the Angeles National Forest could dramatically increase," Fiksdal said.

As the fire season continues, visitors to the Angeles National Forest are reminded of restrictions in effect due to extreme fire conditions.

"The best way visitors can prevent fires in the forest is to follow the fire restrictions in place," said Don Feser, Angeles National Forest fire management officer.

-- Staff Writer Alan Schnepf contributed to this story. Diana L. Roemer can be reached at (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2105, or by e-mail at diana.roemer@sgvn.com.

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