A line around Zaca blaze

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After 2 months, officials declare it contained. The second-largest fire in state history has burned 375 square miles and injured 44 firefighters.

Source of this article – Los Angeles Times, September 3, 2007

Firefighters finally declared victory over the Zaca fire Sunday.

The blaze was declared fully contained at 6 p.m., two months after it was sparked by an allegedly reckless water pipe repair. The fire burned 375 square miles of wilderness in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties and injured 44 firefighters.

The Zaca blaze, which consumed 240,207 acres in Los Padres National Forest, was the second-largest recorded wildfire in California history, authorities said. The largest was San Diego County’s Cedar fire, which burned 273,246 acres in 2003.

“We are quite happy that we have achieved success in finally suppressing this fire,” said Joe Pasinato, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service. “It’s been a great endeavor, and we’re happy that it’s finally coming to an end.”

All told, he said, the battle against the blaze — which at its peak involved more than 3,000 firefighters, numerous fixed-wing aircraft, eight air tankers and 20 helicopters — cost about $117 million. Only one structure, an uninhabited shed, was destroyed, he added.

Some flreflghters had to be hospitalized, but none of their injuries were life-threatening. And an emergency recovery team was combing the area to assess environmental damage. “It’s been two months of very intensive fire suppression,” Pasinato said.

On Friday, two men were charged with felony crimes for allegedly recklessly starting the fire July 4 with sparks from grinding equipment they were using to repair a water pipe near Los Olivos in northern Santa Barbara County.

The blaze took such a long time to contain, Pasinato said, because of several factors: record-high summer temperatures, low humidity and rainfall, tightly packed combustible materials, vegetation that in some cases hadn’t burned in more than a century, and the area’s remoteness and steep terrain.

“We were dealing with very old vegetation that hadn’t burned in trackable history, maybe 100 to 110 years,” Pasinato said. “A lot of the other fuels were 60 to 70 years old. We had very dry and volatile stuff out there.”

Early on, he said, the Zaca Lake Resort had to be evacuated but was left unscathed. “The fire basically went around it.”

Though the fire is contained, Pasinato cautioned, it’s not yet controlled. “We have a line around it,” he said, and crews were still checking for flare-ups, hot spots and smoke.

In the meantime, he added, the area is closed to recreationists and probably will remain so for quite some time: “A lot of it has to do with safety. We want to make sure that no one inadvertently walks into a hot spot and gets burned.”

Other potential hazards, he said, include falling rocks and trees. “Bumed-out tree shells fall over with very little provocation,” he said. “We’ve had people injured or killed by trees falling over after fires.”

Until further notice, Pasinato said, the two main passages into the area — Figueroa Mountain Road and Happy Canyon Road — will be open only to the forest boundary.

“In a fire this size,” he said, “it’s not unreasonable for control to take several weeks.”