While several roads near Los Padres National Forest remain closed due to the Zaca Fire aftermath, authorities are now saying they may soon lift some of the closures starting Oct. 1.
The blaze that began on the Fourth of July was declared contained by the U.S. Forest Service on Sept. 2 at 6 p.m. However, “hotspots,” such as smoldering logs, still remained until just last week. Closures from the fire include a large area between Highway 166 and Highway 33, Pine Mountain Road, Figueroa Mountain Road, Happy Canyon Road and a portion of Santa Ynez River Road.
U.S. Forest Service Representative Joe Pasinato said the closures may soon disappear near the Los Padres area.
“We are currently evaluating all the closures and are expecting a change Oct. 1,” Pasinato said. “We want everyone to enjoy the national forest with a minimal amount of hazards.”
He said forest officials are now monitoring the affected areas to confirm that the fire is actually out and have yet to find evidence to the contrary.
“We haven’t detected any hotspots for a week now,” Pasinato said. “We are now waiting for forest management to declare that it’s over.”
As the second largest fire in modern history, the Zaca Fire burned 240,207 acres of Santa Barbara County woodland. Forest Supervisor Ken Heffner said the roads were still closed in order to prevent off-road vehicles from illegally entering the forest and to avoid any other possible harm. He said burnt trees and loosened rocks are just a few of the hazards currently strewn about the Los Padres National Forest.
“It is a very unstable environment right now with active landslides and rockslides, rolling boulders and debris, burned trees and deep stump holes among the hazards,” Heffner said. “During rainstorms there is high likelihood of dangerous slides and flash floods.”
During the blaze’s two-month span, only one firefighter suffered a major injury after damaging his back while on duty. The firefighter was airlifted out of the forest. Additionally, 40 more firefighters sustained minor injuries during the blaze.
Pasinato said forest services are still advising caution.
“I also want to point out that the Los Padres National Forest is still having a fire restriction,” Pasinato said. “That means no open flames are allowed until it is deemed safe.”
He said the fire restriction will continue until the area receives either two inches of rain or a humidity of around 60 percent. Once this goal is achieved, Pasinato said visitors will still need a fire permit in order to create sparks or light flames.
The Zaca Fire began in July after a stray spark landed on some nearby grass while Bell Canyon ranch workers were grinding an irrigation pipe. The fire, which was declared contained on Sept. 3, had cost the state over $118 million to battle.