A first look at the charred landscape left by last week's Palomar Mountain fire shows that the damage was not as severe as many had feared, forestry officials reported Wednesday.
The eight-day blaze that began Oct. 3 consumed 16,100 acres of vegetation and four structures before 2 1/2 days of rain helped douse it, but some experts who met Wednesday in the Escondido Library to plan restoration of the area were surprised by what the fire left behind.
"In several of the canyons, vegetation is largely intact," said Craig Mahaffey, a forest hydrologist for the U.S. Forest Service. "There is evidence of flows of rainfall on Sunday, but not a lot of sediment was carried down. The ground was dry and naturally absorbed a lot.
"Everything looked really good. The rain will have assisted in the recovery of the soil. It was probably a beneficial rain."
An early restoration plan was abandoned when an inspection determined that it was not needed. "Our preliminary discussion was about whether or not to seed Pauma Creek, but we decided damage was not severe enough to warrant reseeding," said Susan Blankenbaker, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman.
The U.S. Forest Service and California Department of Forestry are heading up the rehabilitation effort with the help of local, state and national groups, Blankenbaker said.
The most immediate course of action will be taken by the office of Norm Noyes, a resource officer in the Palomar Ranger District, which will coordinate immediate restoration of the fire lines. The job, he said, will entail removing trash and debris, moving brush and knocking down leaf litter, and looking for hazardous trees that might fall and hurt someone or rekindle flames.
"The fire has cleared spaces people can get to now," Noyes said.
Blankenbaker said that, before officials figure out a detailed rehabilitation plan, they will look at how the fire has affected soil erosion, drainage, vegetation, wildlife and structures.
Volunteer, County Effort
Blankenbaker said the CDF is planning to institute a tree-planting program that will include volunteers, and the County Office of Disaster Preparedness will aid with such things as providing sandbags to prevent erosion.
The sandbags will help prevent damage to homes and buildings, she said.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs is concerned with the Mission Indian Reservation, parts of which were also burned. Although a representative of the bureau was not at the meeting, he was part of a helicopter crew surveying damage on Wednesday.
The fire was brought under control Sunday, with the help of an inch and a half of rain. About 300 firefighters continue to monitor hot spots. The fire is expected to be completely extinguished by Tuesday.
The fire damaged state and federal land--including the Mission Indian Reservation, the Cleveland National Forest and Palomar Mountain State Park--and private lands where four residences and four outbuildings, such as garages, sheds and trailers, were destroyed.
Among the officials at Wednesday's reforestation were those representing the U.S. Forest Service, the California Department of Forestry, the County Office of Disaster Preparedness, the U.S. Soil Conservation Service, Palomar Mountain State Park, the County Board of Supervisors and other county agencies.
2 Public Meetings Set
Blankenbaker said there will be two public meetings next week to discuss rehabilitation efforts. One is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Pauma Community Center. The other is tentatively scheduled to be held on Palomar Mountain, though the exact time and location have yet to be determined.
"The goals of those meetings are to inform the public about what rehabilitation efforts will take place," she said. "People with needs or concerns about their land will have an opportunity to find out what agencies and programs can assist them. We want them to participate because they know exactly what their situations are right at home."
She said officials will meet again in private at 10 a.m. Tuesday in El Cajon to complete their rehabilitation plans.