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Flooding Fear Eased : Orange County Fire Damage Rated Light

September 18, 1987|STEVEN R. CHURM | Times Staff Writer

In the Cleveland National Forest, a team of specialists this week examined the damage to the watershed and wildlife caused by the 5,000-acre fire that began Sept. 9 and evaluated the potential for floods this winter.

While a full report is not expected for several weeks, the most extensive damage to watershed occurred on the Riverside County side of the fire, particularly in Anderson Canyon north of the Glen Ivy area, said Kathy Turner, a U.S. Forest Service resource expert.

Because of the canyon's steep terrain, firefighters could do little more than build containment lines and let the blaze burn itself out--a tactic that destroyed much of the area's vegetation and has greatly increased the potential for winter flooding in the largely rural Temescal Valley.

The damage was less severe in Orange County and the Silverado Canyon area, where the fire, which raged for six days, had been deliberately set. Some of the canyon's 1,200 residents have expressed concern that unless action is taken quickly to reseed the blackened acres, they could be threatened by rain. But Turner said it appears that Silverado Canyon is less likely to encounter flooding than other areas.

Another reason for optimism, Turner said, was that the fire left the soil in many areas in relatively good shape. Heat damages the soil, preventing seeds and water from permeating the surface so vegetation can take hold.

"A super-hot fire acts like a Scotchguard on the soil, and it takes years for the soil to eventually soften," Turner said. "We're lucky because the soil in the Silverado fire is OK."

The fire's relatively low heat also helped wildlife, particularly ground squirrels that were probably able to survive by burrowing underground until it passed, Turner said.

Another plus was that the relatively slow speed of the fire allowed larger animals like cougars and deer to escape. If the wind had been stronger, Turner said, more animals might have died.

The Forest Service said it cost $1.3 million to fight the blaze.

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