Conserving the Nature of America

News Release

Wildfires Impacting Services Operations in Southern California

October 24, 2007


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220

Wildfires that began Sunday (October 21) and continue to burn in southern California have destroyed thousands of acres of vegetation and habitat on Hopper Mountain and San Diego National Wildlife Refuges, forced the temporary closure of the Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office, and spurred deployment of more than 40 Service firefighters to the region. 

As of Wednesday, more than 1,500 homes have been destroyed by wildfires in five southern California counties. Property damage is estimated at $1 Billion in San Diego County alone. All Service employees in the affected areas are accounted for and no employees homes have been damaged by fire. 

The Ranch Fire in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties burned more than 70 percent of the vegetation on Hopper Mountain NWR, home of the Services California condor recovery program.  Fire spread to the 2,471 acre refuge Sunday evening (Oct. 21) and continued into Wednesday morning. Damage to vegetation was extensive, but miraculously, the fire spared Hopper Ranch, an historic and isolated ranch house that provides equipment storage and housing for the refuges condor biologists.  Although spared from fire damage, the ranch house and out buildings were damaged by debris propelled by near-record Santa Anna winds.  Refuge staff evacuated the refuge Sunday, leaving behind the ranch, condor isolation pens and three condor chicks in their remote nest sites

"News of the ranch houses survival was bittersweet as it became clear that the area burned included the condor nest sites," said Marc Weitzel, project leader at Hopper Mountain refuge complex.   "The only complete fire loss was our iso-pen building, once used for rearing and as a temporary holding site for individual condors.  A larger flight pen and blind are still sound even though the fire very clearly burned right through the pen."

Radio transmission signals from transmitters affixed to two of the three chicks indicated that two chicks likely survived the fire.  The fate of the third chick will not be known until refuge staff can visually inspect the nest site which is in a remote area of the refuge. All adult condor parents are alive and in the area of the nests.

More than 3,800 acres (50 percent) of vegetation and habitat on the San Diego NWR was burned by the Harris Fire which has burned more than 70,000 acres in southern San Diego County.  Service fire crews back-burned areas around the refuge headquarters building Monday (Oct. 22) which successfully spared the building from fire damage.  Refuge fire staff also saved  additional private residences by lighting back-burns off fuel-breaks established by the Services  Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) projects. 

The Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office in Carlsbad was closed earlier this week, however, some Carlsbad staff are assisting with emergency endangered species consultations. Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office staff is also assisting with emergency consultations.  

Approximately 40 firefighters Service firefighters are currently deployed to southern California.  The California Nevada Operations (CNO) Office, as a member of the California Wildfire Coordination Group, is assisting with the statewide fire response.  CNO is also coordinating a Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) effort with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Forest Service. 

Information contained in older news items may be outdated. These materials are made available as historical archival information only. Individual contacts have been replaced with general External Affairs office information. No other updates have been made to the information and we do not guarantee current accuracy or completeness.

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