Forest Service Reopens Areas Burned in Zaca Fire; Trail Damage Extensive; Public Urged to Use Extreme Caution

Los Padres National Forest officials today announced that the area burned by the Zaca Fire, closed to public entry since the fire began in July 2007, will be reopened at noon, April 4. "The trail system has sustained extensive damage and the public is urged to use extreme caution when traveling in the affected area," said Forest Supervisor Peggy Hernandez.

"A great deal of dry ravel (erosion) occurred immediately after the fire, and the winter rains and heavy snowfall caused additional damage," explained Hernandez. "Particularly hard hit are vulnerable mid-slope trails like segments of the popular Santa Cruz trail, and the Grapevine and Potrero trails in the San Rafael Wilderness. Another key area that sustained significant damage is the Manzana Narrows. Many sections of the trail system have been completely obliterated."

Forest Service backcountry manager Kerry Kellogg estimates that 167 miles of backcountry trail were impacted by the Zaca Fire. Kellogg said other safety hazards include deep gullies, landslides and rockslides on trails; burned trees and tree limbs that can fall without warning; burned stump holes; and damaged or missing trail signs. He warned that the land, particularly the steep terrain, will be changing constantly and will be unstable for many years until the vegetation becomes reestablished. "Even the most experienced hikers will need to stay alert to their surroundings and not take unnecessary risks," Kellogg said.

Forest Service officials also warned that most of the burned area will not be safe for equestrians until the trails are repaired. "Hikers may be able to pick their way across some damaged areas, but stock would have a very difficult time," said Kathleen Phelps, District Ranger for the Santa Lucia District which encompasses most of the San Rafael Wilderness. Of particular concern are sideslope trails where horses may not be able to turn around safely if they encounter a landslide or gully.