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Angeles National Forest fire takes toll on wildlife

September 1, 2009 | 10:49 am

The Station fire in the San Gabriel Mountains has taken an enormous toll on the environment, a fact that was particularly evident along Angeles Crest Highway, which remained closed to public traffic this morning.

Under skies tinged corral and gray by dense smoke, mile after mile of mountain and canyon lands along both sides of the two-lane highway, Route 2, had been stripped of manzanita, sumac, sycamore and pine trees that had not previously burned in nearly half a century.

Vistas had become moonscapes of dirt, rock and ash in the Angeles National Forest. Every few hundred yards, the charred remains of a squirrel or rodents could be seen lying by the side of the road. Some creatures, however, managed to survive.

Birds, including scrub jays, flitted among rare patches of chaparral clinging to cliff sides. A female mule deer wandered along the highway. A rabbit sat forlornly on a plateau covered with gray ash. Many firefighters recalled crossing paths with surviving rattlesnakes.

Federal wildlife authorities said biologists and environmental rehabilitation specialists were expected to begin inspecting the damage and developing recovery strategies in the near future.

Nearly every firefighter had a heartbreaking story to tell about an encounter with dead or dying wildlife.

"We came across a rabbit with a broken back, and we put it out of its misery," said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Capt. Nick Shawkey. "But the majority of animals die from superheated gases that precede the fire front. Their respiratory systems get knocked out. Essentially, they suffocate."

Standing on a cliff edge and surveying the devastation, he added, "It’s sad. Really sad. But it will come back."

-- Louis Sahagun at Mt. Wilson

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