Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA) sustained significant damage from the Woolsey Fire, with almost 100,000 acres of land burned. Most of Western Town at Paramount Ranch was destroyed, as well as the 1927 Peter Strauss Ranch house, the Arroyo Sequit and Rocky Oaks ranger residences, an archives/museum building, and most of the UCLA La Kretz Field Station.
On the positive side, some areas were undamaged and have reopened, including Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa and King Gillette Ranch.
“We want to caution people…that trail conditions are unknown,” Mike Thuene of National Park Service told the VC Star. “There’s lots of hazard trees in the area and damage to park facilities and buildings. So, please stay out of the area for your safety.”
Emily Pruitt, an NPS spokeswoman, told another news outlet that it’s too early to say when burned sections of the recreation area will reopen. “The fire destroyed at least 616 structures within the park,” she said, “and there are still a lot of potential hazards to be assessed.”
Eighty-eight percent of local National Park Service acres—20,839 out of 23,621 acres—were burned. Other park partners—California State Parks, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy—also sustained significant damage.
The Woolsey Fire burned more acres within SMMNRA than any other fire in recorded history. The largest previous fire was the 1993 Green Meadows Fire, which burned 38,000 acres. The 1970 Clampitt Fire burned 115,537 total acres, but didn’t burn nearly as much within the recreation area.
Last Friday, NPS officials pleaded with the public on social media to stop feeding wildlife in the Woolsey Fire burn area, saying deer and other animals could become habituated to finding the food. The SMMNRA posted photos showing piles of fresh carrots, apples, corn and hay that people had left out for the animals, and cautioned that feeding wildlife on NPS land violates federal law.
Western Town at Paramount Ranch, which featured a Western “Main Street” and structures that served as barns, hotels, saloons and barbershops for decades of movies and TV shows is gone—only the train station and a church built for HBO’s “Westworld” remain.
At a press conference held Nov. 14, SMMNRA Superintendent David Szymanski announced plans to rebuild the “town” in the next 24 months through a fundraising campaign led by the nonprofit Santa Monica Mountains Fund. He noted that the ranch isn’t just a filming location, it is also a popular venue for weddings and other events and will be rebuilt with that in mind.
The 1926 Peter Strauss Ranch home and Harry Miller House were also significantly damaged. The amphitheater at that location survived the fire and NPS plans to continue hosting the Tiny Porch Summer Concert Series as well as other special events there.
A statement released by NPS explained that even though fire is a natural part of the ecosystem, “Too much fire can harm plant communities, reduce wildlife habitat and actually increase future fire risk.” Over the millennia, scientists estimate that coastal Southern California only had a fire about every 100 years—having fires every 20 years “isn’t natural.”
According to NPS, these too-frequent fires cause invasive weeds and grasses to establish themselves, which burn even faster than native vegetation.
When it comes to the welfare of wildlife, NPS said that in general, large animals like deer, coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions are better able to escape wildfires. Smaller animals like squirrels, lizards and rabbits have a much more difficult time getting away.
NPS confirmed on social media Nov. 26 that 12 out of 13 mountain lions with tracking collars appear to be alive. “We’re sad to report P-74 likely did not survive the Woolsey Fire,” NPS officials reported. “His GPS collar has not reported to us since Nov. 9, the day the fire moved into the central part of the Santa Monica Mountains. We believe he had not yet dispersed from his mother, who was not radio-collared.”
Because so much of their home ranges have burned, NPS says it will take time for their biologists to determine if the big cats “will be able to find the resources they need to continue surviving.” The four bobcats being tracked all appeared to be moving.
“Most ecologists say it’ll take 10 to 20 years for the Santa Monica Mountains to look the way they did before the Woolsey Fire came through,” said Mark Mendelsohn, NPS biologist—depending on rainfall and drought.
It appears two isolated populations of federally threatened red-legged frogs survived. Federal biologists are discussing proposals to capture the frog population in the event a large rainstorm threatens to bury one of the species’ last known creekside habitats in mud and debris.
In Topanga Canyon, firefighters avoided dropping fire retardant that would have destroyed important creek habitat.
“Topanga Canyon was spared,” biologist Rosi Dagit said. “I stood overlooking the stream and shouted, ‘Thank God, you didn’t burn!’” she told the VC Star.