Lake Fire History: July 11, 2024

The Lake Fire started in the late afternoon July 5 somewhere in the Zaca Lake drainage. The cause of the fire is still under investigation. The Lake Fire ignition point was very close to where the Zaca Fire had started 17 years and 1 day earlier on July 4, 2007. If you are reading this, then you probably have some interest in this wildfire and where / what it might burn in days, weeks and perhaps months ahead.

While the weather will largely dictate the direction and duration of the Lake Fire, we can also look at the behavior of past wildfires and study decisions made during those fires to help understand where this current wildfire might be headed. This is known as the fire history. Fire history is a tool that can show us many things such as the strategy of how previous wildfires were fought, where historic firebreaks have held or lost the fire, how many years (or decades) of vegetation fuel might be ahead of the fire and more.

Just to be clear, we’re not professional fire predictors by any means. We aren’t meteorologists. We aren’t fire behavior specialists. We don’t have a seat at the table when fire decisions are being made. But we know the Los Padres and we have seen too many wildfires ravage our beloved forest. If you spend any time in this forest, you know how devastating these fires can be to the vegetation, the waterways, the critters, the trails and our ability to recreate in the forest we love. That being said, let’s take a closer look at the Lake Fire and the fire history in this part of the Los Padres. Perhaps we’ll see some trends to help figure out where and for how long the Lake Fire might be burning.

This first map shows the Lake Fire perimeter as of July 10, 2024. The fire started near Zaca Lake and initially headed west from there. Over the past few days, as the western winds returned to normal, the fire has been mostly pushing to the east, northeast and lightly to the north. Most of the firefighting efforts have rightfully been aimed at keeping the fire from heading south and west into ranches, vineyards and communities. The fire crews did a great job over the initial days of the Lake Fire to slow the fire down and protect the communities. Bravo.

This second map shows the perimeter of the 1993 Marre Fire. Most of the terrain that the Lake Fire has scorched as of today was last burned in the Marre Fire. The Marre Fire was started on the edge of the Los Padres, east of Los Olivos by a discarded cigarette. It burned over the course of a couple weeks in September and October 1993.

This third map is an overlay of the Lake Fire in green, the Marre Fire in orange’ish and the overlap of the two in yellow. You can see that while both fires did spread west, most of their progress was to the east. This is due to a combination of firefighting efforts focusing on protecting communities to the south as well as the predominantly western winds pushing the fire to the east. We also see that the majority of both fires were along the south facing slopes of the San Rafael Mountains. This makes sense as fires generally burn up slopes faster than down slopes. Of interest on this map is that while the Marre Fire did slop down into the upper Manzana and up to Manzana Creek, it was stopped before spreading across the majority of the backcountry. At that time, most of the Manzana had not burned in over 50 years and there was certainly plenty of fuel to keep the fire going. We’re not sure how or why the fire stopped where it did but the fact that it did stop at the Manzana even with all that fuel is promising for the future of the Lake Fire.

This fourth map shows the Lake Fire in green and the beginning of the massive 2007 Zaca Fire in purple with overlap in blue. You’ll see that as of right now there hasn’t been much overlap between the two fires and perhaps the Lake Fire is slowing as it burns into the Zaca scar. There is “only” 17 years of fuel buildup in the Zaca as compared to 31 years within the Marre scar. In its early days, the Zaca Fire burned slowly east up the Manzana before stalling in the bowl between Big Cone Spruce and McKinley Saddle. It seemed that Zaca would die out in that bowl but eventually the fire escaped the Manzana, crested McKinley Saddle and tore off into the Santa Cruz drainage and beyond.

This fifth map shows the Lake, Marre and Zaca Fires. It appears that the 31 years of regrowth within the Marre Fire has provided plenty of fuel to keep the Lake Fire going. If the Lake Fire continues east along its current path and the path of the Marre Fire, it will eventually become surrounded by the Zaca scar up near McKinley Saddle and the Big Cone Spruce bowl. Will the relatively light 17 years of Zaca regrowth be enough to slow the Lake Fire down or will the Lake Fire follow the path of Zaca and continue over into the Santa Cruz and beyond? McKinley Saddle was where the Zaca Fire was lost and could likely be the site of an important stand for the Lake Fire as well.

This sixth map shows some of the wildfire history to the north of the Lake Fire. This may become important should the Lake Fire cross the lower Manzana and perhaps ultimately the lower Sisquoc. You’ll see the 2009 La Brea Fire in brown, the 1966 Wellman Fire in purple and the overlap in red. La Brea was recent enough that the fuel load could slow things down but the 58 years or regrowth within the Wellman scar probably won’t hinder the fire at all.

And this seventh and final map shows the collection of wildfires that have impacted this part of the Los Padres. There are other wildfires not shown like the Cachuma, Sedgewick, Hurricane and others that have had smaller footprints within this area but probably won’t impact the overall path of the Lake Fire. It’s sad that there aren’t many islands of non-burned areas left and we’ll certainly lose more of them over the coming days and weeks. 

Since the onset of the Lake Fire, we’ve spoken with many Forest Service staff, fire crews, local historians and amateur fire gurus. There are serious concerns that the Lake Fire might turn into another Zaca and burn for months on end across the entire Santa Barbara backcountry from the Schoolhouse to Hwy 33 and from the Sierra Madre to the Santa Ynez. If you don’t remember the Zaca Fire, it was too big, bigger than it needed to be. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Let’s pray for the safety of the fire crews, hope the winds work in our favor and have belief that 17 years of Zaca Fire regrowth isn’t enough to fuel the Lake Fire into a multi-hundred-thousand-acre backcountry chewing mega-fire.

Manzana Schoolhouse Weekend Trail Project & Zaca Fire Anniversary

National Trails Day 2017, Santa Cruz Trail

Good Afternoon Everyone – Hope you are doing well!

The Los Padres enjoyed a great weekend of National Trails Day projects across the Los padres.  Reports are still trickling in from the various projects and we hope to share photos and updates in the coming week or so.  It certainly was hot out there this past weekend!  While National Trails Day in June might work for the rest of the country, it’s a hot time of year in the LP.  Thank you to everyone who helped out this weekend, if you have photos from wherever you were, please share, we’d love to see them!

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June 9-11

The LPFA is going to squeeze in one more long-weekend project before the backcountry gets too hot. Join us June 9-11 at Manzana Schoolhouse as we do some work on the Lower Manzana Trail, clear some downed trees from the Lower Sisquoc and clean up Manzana Schoolhouse Camp. 

The plan is to meet at the Lower Manzana Trailhead on Friday June 9 at 8am. We’ll load our camping gear into trucks that will drive out to the Schoolhouse while we spend the day hiking, clearing trees and a few strategic slides along the Manzana Trail. We’ll get to the Schoolhouse with enough time to cool down in the Sisquoc, get some dinner, enjoy happy hour and watch the full moon creep over Castle Rock. 

Saturday will be spent clearing the downed trees along the Lower Sisquoc, working on the lowest section of the Manzana Trail and fixing a few odds and ends around Manzana Schoolhouse Camp.

We’ll pack up Sunday, the trucks will once again carry our camping gear back to NIRA while we hike up-stream and fine-tune any remaining issues along the Manzana Trail.

As always, meals Friday night – Sunday will be provided for the volunteers. The hike in to the Schoolhouse is about 9 miles. If you can’t make it in on Friday morning, you’re still welcome to attend, we’d just like you to get to the Schoolhouse in enough time to volunteer on Saturday. Please RSVP.  Should be a great time and a special final weekend of volunteering in the backcountry this season. Hope you can make it and email ( for more information or to sign up!

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One of the endless Zaca plumes, photo Ray Ford
July 4, 2007, the day the Zaca Fire started and a few weeks before it really went.  Can you believe it’s been almost 10 years since the Zaca Fire burned most of the Santa Barbara Backcountry!??!  Join us Thursday June 15 at 6:30pm at the Santa Barbara Library as Ray Ford takes us down memory lane recounting the progress and history of the once-in-a-lifetime conflagration known as the Zaca Fire.  He’ll go over just about every acre of the over 240,000 acres that burned between its start July 4 and sometime in early December when it finally went out.  The talk is FREE, get it on your calendar and we hope to see you there!  More details and information to come…..

Mono-Alamar Trail Maintenance

bannerlogosCCC Mono-Alamar Trail: Caracole Section
April 18 – May 4, 2016


CCC Headed Home After a Long Day Working Trail


Trail Organizations: Los Padres Forest Association, California Conservation Corps

Volunteers: Otis Calef, Richard Waller, Ed Fuentes, Kathleen Phelps, Rik Christensen, Don Jack, Bryan Conant

Trail Miles Worked: 2.86 miles

Camps & Trails Surveyed: Pie Canyon Jeepway, P-Bar Campground, Mono-Alamar Trail, Upper Mono Camp, Caracole Camp, Alamar Trail, Poplar Trail


Mono Drainage

Project Description: The LPFA setup, supported and managed what ended up being a two-week California Conservation Corps (CCC) project along the Caracole section of the Mono-Alamar Trail and lower portions of the Poplar and Alamar Trails.  These sections of trail were some of the hardest hit by the Zaca Fire and were in horrible shape.  The LPFA spent a two days flagging the trail ahead of time so that the CCC would have a route to follow, otherwise it would have been nearly impossible to determine where the trail went.  The CCC completed much of the trail to standard but focused primarily on opening up the trail corridor and treading along the steeper and sketchier sections of trail.  All in all it was a very successful project along a harsh, remote and overgrown section of the Los Padres Forest. The entire Mono-Alamar Trail is now stock passable.


Project Accomplishments: As part of the RIRI Zaca Restoration program, the LPFA put together a plan to restore the Mono-Alamar Trail. The Mono-Alamar was damaged in the 2007 Zaca Fire and had not received any substantial trail work since then. It had been flagged a few times but remained more of a route than a trail. The proper trail was unfindable for most of the route and as a result hikers were basically taking the path of least resistance and following the creek. The first step in the restoration of Mono-Alamar was two successful projects in Fall 2015 clearing the trail from the Mono-Alamar Trailhead to the Mono Narrows. The third scheduled project was to spike a CCC crew 1.75miles above Ogilvy Ranch and have them work the Caracole section of the Mono-Alamar Trail, which goes from Mono Narrows up to Loma Pelona and Alamar Hill. Here is the link to the pre-project photos and instructions for the CCC:


Steep Going, Pie Cyn Jeepway

After hours of logistical planning, we were ready to get started. First we had to get the packers out to Ogilvy Ranch, which would be the base of operations for the CCC spike. We met the packers (Kathleen Phelps, Ed Fuentes & Otis Calef) at the Mono-Alamar trailhead on the morning of April 18 and then after getting them set-off, met the CCC at P-Bar Campground. The CCC initially sent out a three-person team on April 18 to get the spike camp setup before the main crew arrived on the 19th.  After meeting at P-Bar, we drove the hour over the 4×4 Pie Canyon Jeepway before eventually getting to Ogilvy Ranch. Once at Ogilvy Ranch we rendezvoused with the packers and took a load up to the spike camp, which was 1.75miles above the Ogilvy Adobe.  The CCC team stayed at the spike camp while the packers returned to Ogilvy to camp at the upper Adobe. The next morning (4/19) the packers took a second load up to the spike camp while LPFA returned to P-Bar in order to meet the main CCC crew and escort them in to Ogilvy. Everything went as planned and the full CCC crew met the packers at Ogilvy in the early afternoon. The packers then took a third load that afternoon and after briefing the CCC crew leader on work expectations, the project was ready to roll. The next morning, the packers, the initial CCC team and LPFA left Ogilvy and returned to civilization. The CCC were supposed to be at the spike camp for 7 days.


Ze Plane, Ze Plane

Two days later, the LPFA got a phone call from the CCC indicating that there was a mixup and that a cooler of luncheon meat was accidentally sent on a different CCC hitch and that they needed to get 50lbs of meat out to the Mono-Alamar spike camp. Rather than having the CCC spend over 8hrs driving to Ogilvy, we were able to find a Santa Ynez pilot named Doug who frequently flew into Ogilvy using their private landing strip. Doug happily volunteered to fly in a cooler of luncheon meat and after having the CCC drop off the cooler at the Santa Ynez Airport, Doug flew in later that afternoon and dropped off the cooler next to the airstrip. He buzzed the CCC spike camp in order to give them a literal heads up that the food had been delivered.


Packing CCC at Ogilvy

Two days after that we received phone calls from both the CCC spike crew leader and CCC staff in SLO that there was a substantial wind storm at the spike camp and that the crew was unable to work due to high winds estimated at 60mph. They were unable to walk or negotiate creek crossings due to the high wind. After consulting with CCC staff we made the decision to evacuate the spike crew and get them out of the Mono. The crew broke down half of their camp, buried whatever food they could and returned that evening to the Ogilvy Adobe camp. The next day the CCC staff from SLO drove back to Ogilvy and were able to get the crew out of the backcountry. By Sunday April 23 the spike camp was abandoned and all work had stopped.


CCC Spike Camp


Plymale, Going Ultralite

Starting the next day, the LPFA and CCC got to work trying to figure out how to proceed with the project. We put together an plan that a smaller Santa Maria based CCC crew would head back in to the Mono spike camp that next Wednesday and pick up the work where the first SLO based crew left off. A smaller CCC crew arrived on Tuesday 4/26 and once again hiked up to the spike camp to ascertain the damage from the windstorm, unearth the buried food and setup the camp. On Wednesday 4/27 it was deja vu all over again as the packers met at the Mono-Alamar Trailhead (this time Otis Calef, Richard Waller and Rik Christensen) and after getting them set off, LPFA returned to P-Bar to meet the Santa Maria CCC crew and usher them out to Ogilvy. We once again met at the upper Ogilvy Adobe and took in one load that afternoon up to the spike camp. After once again briefing the crew leader on expectations, we packed a load of trash back to Ogilvy and settled in for the night. The next morning the packers took a final load up to the spike camp and returned along with LPFA back to the trucks and out to civilization.


The Otis Pack Train

Now all the drama was done for the project* and the crews could focus on what they do best: clearing the trails. Between the two crews and over two weeks on the project they were able to work on the trail 8 days.  The goal for the week was to clear 2.86miles of trail to standard from Mono-Narrows up to the junction of the Alamar / Mono-Alamar / Poplar Trails and then work the Poplar Trail up to the bottom of Loma Pelona and work the Alamar Trail to the top of Alamar Hill. The work was completed to standard over the first 1.5miles above Mono Narrows along the Mono-Alamar Trail and the rest of the trail was cleared but does require additional tread work in order to get to standard. The crew made the correct decision to get the entire 2.86miles of trail open rather than to only get a portion of that completed to standard. It was the correct decision.  Fortunately, they were able to complete the worst section of trail called the Caracole, which is a series of winding switchbacks that climb steeply out of Mono Creek with quite a few sheer drop-offs along the way. This section was certainly not passable to stock and borderline passable for foot traffic. At the completion of the project, both Otis and Ed Fuentes were able to get their mules all the way along the 2.86miles of trail.

On Tuesday May 3 we once again met the packers (Otis Calef, Don Jack & Ed Fuentes) at the Mono-Alamar Trailhead, drove in to the Ogilvy Adobe and began a two-day, 3 load extraction of the CCC crew. All went well enough as we were able to cleanup the spike camp, get the crew out and return over the mountain to civilization once again. Quite a few twists and turns for a one-week hitch, but at the end of the project we were happy with the work completed and the Mono-Alamar Trail can be safely hiked or ridden once again.


CCC Trail Crew


Mono-Alamar Trail:

 Alamar & Poplar Trail:

Project Notes:

  • There was plenty of water for the CCC crew although we did see it starting to dry up between when we started and when the hitch was completed.
  • The CCC saw one other hiking group during their two combined weeks on the Mono.
  • We did fix and replace a broken trail sign post on the Ogilvy property.
  • We also did a little trail work along the Ogilvy bypass section of the Mono-Alamar.

Future Projects Needed:

  • We’ll need to send in another crew to complete the work along the upper 1/2mile of the Mono-Alamar and then the section of Alamar Trail up to Alamar Hill and the section of Poplar Trail up to the Lomas.
  • Most of that work will be grubbing out rootballs within the tread, water control structure creation and light brushing.
  • There is one large downed sycamore near Caracole Camp that the CCC could not cut with their 18” chainsaw bar. We should send in a crosscut crew or a larger saw to remove that tree.


Spike Camp Pool