Lets Talk Condor Trail & Winter Storm Warning

The Thomas Fire Didn’t Burn Everything, It Just Feels Like It Did
CONDOR TRAIL TALK
Wednesday January 10 – 6pm – Balboa Building – 735 State St – Santa Barbara
The LPFA and Condor Trail Association are partnering this Wednesday (Jan 10) to host a special Trail Talk focused on the Class of 2016-17 Condor Trail hikers.  We’re really fortunate to have 4 groups of hikers at the event this Wednesday to share stories and photos from their individual exploits along the Condor Trail.  While each of them hiked the same miles, their journeys along those miles are very very different.  It doesn’t matter if you’re dreaming of one day doing the CT or happy just weekend warrior’ing around the Los Padres; you’ll enjoy hearing the fun and sometimes sketchy adventures of these brave CT hikers.  421 miles across the Los Padres – that’s a long way!  Come on out to the Balboa Building at 6pm on Wednesday to hear their tales from the Condor Trail.

In addition we’ll dedicate some time to discuss the Thomas Fire and what the fire means to the Los Padres Forest.  We’ll also have a raffle, some frothy beverages to enjoy compliments of Hollister Brewing Company and enough time to catch up with old fiends and hopefully meet some new ones too.  We hope to see you there.

Any questions or inquiries, please email: INFO@LPForest.org


The Class of 2016-2017 CT Hikers
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Matilija Trout, Facing Some Rough Days Ahead, photo Humphrey
THOMAS FIRE UPDATE
Speaking of the Thomas Fire, the predicted containment date of January 7 has come and gone with the fire holding at 92% containment and having burned 281,893 acres.  The containment % should see an increase over the next few days as most of the Los Padres braces itself for the first large storm of the season.  The storm is currently hitting the Northern Los Padres and has dumped close to two inches already along the Big Sur Coast.  The majority of the storm will hit this evening into tomorrow morning with forecasts predicting 2-6 inches of rain in select locations with downpours potentially at the rate of one inch per hour.  Due to the potential for flash flooding within the fire areas and subsequent debris flows downstream from the fire areas, mandatory evacuations have been issued for most communities under the burn scars covering over 60 miles east to west from Santa Paula Canyon to Refugio including the Thomas, Sherpa and Whittier burn areas.  It’s crazy that less than a month ago the Thomas Fire was threatening to burn houses and now those same houses are threatened from flash flooding.  Good luck to everyone and your homes, be safe……

The closure order for portions of the Los Padres remains intact, closing all forest entry into areas that burned during the Thomas Fire.  There has been a lot of confusion and frustration regarding the closure, including the temporary closing of some of the trails outside the burn area.  Suppression repair is wrapping up and BAER (Burned Area Emergency Response) teams remain on the ground working to protect resources in advance of winter storms.  It’ll be a while before the Thomas closure is lifted, please remain patient and obey the closures.

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Thomas’ Final Gasp?  Lion Canyon, January 2
FOREST 411
• Nearly 6 months after starting on July 8, 2017, the Whittier Fire was officially declared “out” on January 1, 2018.  While flames and smoke stopped months ago, there were a few hot spots that remained in portions of the canyons that were too steep and access too difficult to fully extinguish.  An IR flight team flew the Whittier Fire en route to the Thomas Fire and no heat was sensed from within Whittier.

• Sadly, a 40lb bear was euthanized earlier this week along the Sisar Trail.  The bear was burned during the Thomas Fire and was unable to recover.

• Much of the access to the Los Padres is in jeopardy at the moment due to the oncoming storm.  Slides are expected along forest access roads from Hwy 1 in Big Sur (Soberanes Fire) to 154 in Santa Barbara (Whittier Fire) and down through Hwy 192, 150 and 33 (Thomas Fire).  If you have plans to travel through the forest over the coming week, be sure to check access before you head out.  The CalTrans website is a great resource.

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Great work by VWA volunteer sawyers along the Spruce Creek Trail in the Silver Peak Wilderness, photo Cypher

Thomas Fire on the Los Padres

Sisar Peak Fire Cam, Trending Social Media Star – December 10, 2017
THOMAS FIRE UPDATE

Everyone, even that one guy living in a cave, has been following the Thomas Fire and its week long path of destruction across Ventura County, into the Los Padres and crossing into southeastern Santa Barbara County.  We’ve been talking to so many different people involved and impacted by the fire ranging from fire crews to 80 year old LP lifers and the consensus is that Thomas is “the gnarliest fire we’ve ever seen”.   A couple quick stats:

  • Thomas is now 230,500 acres and growing!  That ranks 5th all-time in California wildfire history and the 2nd all-time largest Los Padres wildfire, just a hair behind the 240,207 acre Zaca Fire of 2007.
  • By comparison it took Zaca 117 days to burn approximately the same acreage that Thomas has chewed up in a week.  Thomas could surpass Zaca later today.
  • Thomas also ranks #10 in most destructive California wildfires and #1 for a LP incident with 790 destroyed structures.  Acreage, shmacreage – lets hope Thomas stops at #10 on this list for sure.  #1 on this list was the Sonoma/Napa fires from October 2017 which burned 5,643 homes!  Quite a destructive fall wildfire season.
  • 65,000 of the 230,500 burned acres are within the Los Padres with most of the LP acreage burning within the past 2-3 days.
  • Thomas is currently 15% contained with nearly 6,400 fire crews and support personnel engaged in the fight.
  • The cause of the fire has not yet been shared.

The catastrophic loss of homes is just so sad.  Many of you reading this email probably know someone who has lost their house or a friend of a friend who is now homeless.  It’s really hard to put it all into words and we’re not out of it yet.  The fire rages on now above Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria with still 18,000 structures threatened.  Schools are closed, frequent power outages, middle of the night emergency evacuation messages and those wishing for a White Christmas got their wish as most Santa Barbara County residents have been living in N95 face masks.  It’s been just as the 80 year old man told us, “gnarliest fire we’ve ever seen”.

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North Fork Matilija Engulfed, December 7
LOS PADRES UPDATE
It’s difficult focusing on the Los Padres with all the Thomas urban destruction but we’ve been getting a lot of questions about how the forest is holding up and what impacts are out there at the moment.  We’ll hit on a few of those here:


Q: Is the forest open?
Much of the Southern Los Padres is now closed (closure order and map).  The closure covers large portions of the Santa Barbara and Mt. Pinos Ranger Districts and all of the Ojai.  This closure, in some shape or formation, will be here for a while.  It is expected that the fire will continue burning within the LP until we get some sizable winter rains.  At that point the footprint of the fire will dictate the closure perimeter and based on past FS closure orders we’d expect that footprint to remain closed well into the spring.

Q: What’s the best source of information?
Good question and no shortage of answers.  We’ll share a few links and you can probably find better links that are more appropriate for what you are looking for:
KEYT News Channel 3 has been doing a solid job streaming the fire since it entered SB County.
InciWeb is the best source for overall incident information including evacuation warnings, maps, etc….
– Lots of maps: NWCG, DirectRelief, SARTopo, WIFIRE, Public Information
– Twitter is fantastic in natural disasters, search #ThomasFire and then include your local community for a more specific search.  Ex: #ThomasFire Ojai

Q: What trails burned?
We’ll spend more time on this once the fire is wrapped up but as of now the following areas/trails received at least some fire damage: Santa Paula Canyon (including East Fork), Santa Paula Peak, Topatopas, Sisar, Red Reef, Lion Canyon, Horn, Gridley, Pratt, Bear Heaven, Howard, Cozy Dell, Fuelbreak, Shelf, Wheeler Gorge (the Visitor Center survived!), Dry Lakes, Ortega, Matilija, Matilija Falls, Murietta, Franklin, Monte Arido, South Pot Seco Rd, Upper Santa Ynez, Alder Creek, Ocean View, Divide Peak, Juncal, Romero and Blue Canyon.  Awful seeing a list that long.  We might have missed a few as well, again we’ll focus more on this later and unfortunately this list might continue to grow.  NOTE: Pendola Station is wrapped, fingers crossed!

Smoke Filled IC Briefing


Q: At least those trails are clear now?
While we appreciate the optimism, in almost all cases fire does not help trails.  Vegetation is what makes trails, especially along steeper trails, it holds the soil in place and keeps the tread intact.  Without vegetation, the trails will (in a best case scenario) be covered in ravel after this winter.  Most likely we’ll have to wait a season or two for the vegetation to come back before removing that ravel and starting to restore the tread.  With all the fires over the past decade we’ve become far too familiar with fire trail recovery.  Most of the trails impacted by the fire will remain closed for a while and might need some major repairs in order to reopen.  Not good.  And there has been so much work done over the past years to repair many of these trails, it’s sad seeing all that work go up in smoke.

Q: What about the animals?  Will they have water to drink?
We’re not biologists but those animals that were able to run away from the fire and/or hunker down should be fine.  Water within the creeks did not evaporate, there will still be water.  Plants regrow quickly and there will be plenty of nearby wild areas that the animals can head towards.  We saw fresh deer tracks well within the black less than a week after the 2016 Rey Fire, we expect the same with Thomas.  That being said, the animal population was certainly hit hard.  Here’s a story regarding California condors threatened by the Thomas Fire.


Q: What does this mean for winter storm damage?
Great question.  There are hydrologists assigned to the fire who are working on this right now.  Most wildfires occur in the summer, giving the burned plant life at least a few months to regrow before winter kicks in.  That plant regrowth helps hold soil in place for when the winter rains start.  We’re in uncharted waters here as the rain could come any week now giving the plants such a short period of time to start coming back.  It might mean unprecedented levels of sedimentation into Matilija, Jameson and Gibraltar reservoirs.  It could also mean extended road closures, Hwy 33 for example is normally closed a few weeks each winter due to landslides, it could be closed all winter.  Who knows…..  Ray Ford wrote an article in Noozhawk this week in regards to previous fires stating “it wasn’t the fire that hurt so much, it was the floods that came through the next winter.”

Q: What does the LPFA do to help, how can we help?
Another great question.  The LPFA has been assisting however we can with fire logistics and sharing information but most important right now is for all of us to just stay away and let the fire crews do their thing.  Once the fire is contained the FS will start getting BAER (Burned Area Emergency Response) teams involved in quickly assessing and fixing potential winter storm damage within the forest.  They might be started on that already.  LPFA will assist with that as needed as well.  Then when the time is right we’ll start working with the FS to survey trails, photo-document trail conditions, share that with the public and ultimately work with the FS and other groups to restore and reopen the damaged trails.  As of RIGHT NOW, there’s not much any of us can do within the forest other than stay out.  That being said, if any of you could use help with any fire related cleanup or anything the LPFA might be able to assist with outside the forest, let us know as we’ve received quite a few emails from volunteers asking how they can help.

Thomas Fire Approaching Divide Peak, December 9

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