Post-Wildfire Worries: Floods, Damaged Ecosystem

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"Any kind of rain is going to be a mess," he said.

In the forest, the consequences of the fire range from loss of wildlife and habitat to an indefinite closure of a vast area used for hiking, fishing, hunting, mountain biking and even commuting.

For the thousands of hikers, much of the forest may no longer resemble the descriptions in "Trails of the Angeles," the bible for trekkers in the San Gabriels since the early 1970s.

"I think you have a hard time designing a more destructive fire from a hiker's standpoint," said Doug Christiansen, now co-author of the guide originated by John W. Robinson. "All that country that it took out contains some of the most heavily used ... and some of the oldest hiking trails on the mountain range."

Christiansen said he and his wife hiked in the Angeles a few days before the fire.

"I feel like that was probably my last glimpse of the mountain range as I knew it. It's going to be generations before it comes back," he said.

County health authorities, meanwhile, are warning people to keep themselves and pets away from any wildlife that may have been forced out of the forest.

There's no doubt the massive fire killed off "thousands and thousands" of animals, mostly small mammals that could not escape the flames, said Pepperdine University biologist Lee Kats, who has investigated the impact of wildfires on wildlife.

"We have some animals that don't have the best escape mechanism. While birds and larger animals can certainly flee, a lot of smaller ones can't," Kats said.

Of particular concern are rodents, reptiles and raccoons—animals that don't get a lot of attention, but play an important role in forest wildlife diversity.

Scientists say it is too early to know what kind of long-term damage the Station Fire wrought on the forest ecosystem. Chaparral generally is highly adapted to a fire-prone environment.

But researchers are concerned that if chaparral burns too often, invasive weeds and flammable grasses could crowd out native shrubs, transforming the landscape.

"If we end up with these areas burning again in a couple of years for whatever reason, then you can end up actually changing native vegetation to exotic vegetation," said Travis Longcore, research associate professor of geography at the University of Southern California.

Many ecosystems can bounce back from devastating fires as long as the blazes are not frequent.

"The reality is there have been fires in the past and there will be fires in the future. Unless you want to pave the mountain, we have to accept that fact," said Longcore, who is also the science director of the nonprofit Urban Wildlands Group.

Jon Keeley, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey's Western Ecological Research Center, said burned areas should sprout without trouble since they haven't faced repeated fires, and recovery is likely to be very quick.

"Next spring, assuming we get reasonable rain, most of those hills should be green with regrowth," Keeley said.

He said the forest will also see an increased diversity of native plants since many seeds lie dormant in the soil waiting for a fire to pass through in order to grow.

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Associated Press Writer Greg Risling contributed to this report.