Fire Information And Forest Closures In Southern California in 2003

Summary of Continued Closures Into 2004

As of 12/17/04, the only San Diego County parks that remain closed are Oakoasis and El Capitan.

The following tables are older information.

PlaceClosed Until
Los Padres National Forest, east half of the Sespe Wilderness and some national forest lands immediately adjacent to the Sespe Wilderness?
San Bernardino National Forest, burned portions15 March 2004
All areas below are in San Diego County
Cleveland National Forest, Descanso District north of I-8?
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park2/3 of the trails still closed in May 2004
El Capitan County Open Space Reserve?
Hellhole Canyon Open Space Reserve?
Iron Mountain, Poway, beyond Iron Mountain Peak?
Lake Jennings?
Mission Trails Regional Park, burned portion (1/3 of park on north side)?
Mount Gower Open Space Reserve, Ramona?
Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary, north of Lakesideindefinitely
William Heise County Park (campsites only)?
Volcan Mountain Wilderness Park?

Reopened Areas

PlaceReopened on
Iron Mountain, Poway, from Highway 67 to Iron Mountain Peak23 December 2003
William Heise County Park (trail system)26 December 2003
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park1/3 of the trails reopened on the south and east end of the park 1 May 2004
Goodan Ranch Regional Park / Sycamore Canyon Open Space PreserveAugust 2004

Sources: North County Times 11/16/03, B1; 12/24/03, B3; 4/24/04; San Diego Union Tribune 11/19/03, NI-1; 12/24/03, NI-1; 12/27/03, NI-1,2; and sources listed below.

See also latest information on San Diego County parks.

Burned Area Emergency Response which deals with safety hazards and threats caused by the fires. See especially their updates, maps and reports.

The entire Angeles National Forest was reopened Friday, 7 November 2003. It was closed on 27 October 2003. (Source: Dave Anderberg, 10/27/03, 11/6/03; ANF website 10/28/03.)

The unburned portion of the San Bernardino National Forest was reopened Friday, 7 November 2003. The burned portions remain closed through March 15, 2004. The entire San Bernardino National Forest was closed on 25 October 2003 due to the Old Fire. (Source: Idyllwild Forest Service Office)

The closure portion is roughly "west of a line following Hwy 330 from the southern boundary of the Forest to Hwy 18, then east to Green Valley Road, then north to the intersection of Forest Road 3N14 and the northern Forest boundary. Also temporarily closed are Forest Roads 1N09 and 1N13". (quote from San Gorgonio Wilderness Association; see that link for the detailed description of the closure area)

The Sespe Wilderness and Condor Sanctuary in the Los Padres National Forest was closed on 26 October 2003 due to the Piru Fire. On 1 November 2003, the fire area closure was reduced and now applies only to the east half of the Sespe Wilderness and some national forest lands immediately adjacent to the Sespe Wilderness.

The Cleveland National Forest is now open except for the Descanso District north of I-8, which remains closed. The only open portion of the Descanso District is the Sibbetz Campground. The entire Cleveland National Forest was closed as of 27 October 2003. (Source: L.A. Times 11/11/03, F11; Lora Lowes, CNF spokesperson, quoted in L.A. Times, 10/28/03, F3.)

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park was completely burned, and state Parks and Recreation Department officials say it "may not reopen until spring or beyond". (Source: San Diego Union-Tribune, 11/5/03, B1)

All state parks in Los Angeles and Ventura counties were closed on 27 October 2003. (Source: L.A. Times, 10/28/03, F3.) They have probably been reopened by 7 November 2003.

Conditions change rapidly with fires, and it is difficult for any single site to stay up to date on current conditions. Hence your best bet to find out if a trail or area is closed is to call the agency responsible for your area of interest.

For places to hike outside the National Forests, see Nearby Hiking Areas.

This has been the worst wildfire year ever in the state of California. As of 10/29/03, 959,955 acres had burned this year, with at least 79% of the total from the Southern California fires listed in the table below. The previous California state record was 873,000 acres in 1987. (Source: L.A. Times, 10/31/03, A1)

Three of these fires already surpass the Willows Fire, which burned 63,486 acres in the San Bernardino Mountains in 1999, and was said to be "Southern California's largest forest fire in eight decades". That was probably a slight exaggeration, since the Laguna Fire in 1970 burned 175,425 acres.

The largest fire in 2003, the Cedar Fire, is the largest fire ever in California, surpassing the 220,000 acres of the Matilija Fire in Ventura County, 1932. (San Diego Union Tribune, 10/29/03, A6). However, none of these fires even come close to being records in the United States, with at least seven fires each burning over 1 million acres, including three that each burned 3 million acres or more.

The Pines Fire near Julian in 2002 burned 61,690 acres, and was the sixth largest fire in the County's history. (The Laguna Fire was the largest.)

For comparison, San Diego County has 1,348,630 wildland acres. As of August 2003, 645,009 (47.8%) of those wildland acres have not burned for at least 50 years, and 413,113 (30.6%) burned between 21 and 50 years ago. Those numbers are of course now much lower after the 2003 fires.

2003 fires, as a percent burned of major geographic subdivisions

% burnedArea# Acres# Acres burned in 2003
30San Diego County wildlands1,348,630410,254
27Santa Susanna Mountains and southeast Los Padres NF*630,000172,195
14San Bernardino Mountains640,00091,281
11San Gabriel Mountains630,00072,000
* The Los Padres National Forest, with over 2 million acres, is a much larger area than the San Gabriel Mountains or San Bernardino Mountains. Hence to gauge the local impact of the fires at Piru and Simi, we have simply taken an area the size of the San Gabriel Mountains to use as a comparison.

Clearly, San Diego County and the Santa Susanna Mountains and southeast Los Padres NF are the areas most heavily impacted by far. Almost the entire mountainous region in each area burned.

For San Diego County, the impact is even greater than given in the table above, since nearly the entire mountainous area of the county burned this year or last year in the Pines Fire. Only the Palomar Mountains and the area east of Otay Mountain, along with small patches between the major fires, were not burned. Most of the wildlands unburned in 2002 or 2003 are coastal or desert environments.

2003 fires larger than 1,000 acres in order of size (Total from table is 774,500 acres)

In the table below, the word containment does not mean the fire is out. It only means that there is a perimeter around the fire that should prevent the fire from growing outside that boundary. A fire can be 100% contained but still be 0% controlled, meaning it is burning freely within the perimeter of the fire. Only when a fire is 100% controlled is there no danger that the fire may jump the containment border.

Also, note that when fires merge, one part of the fire may be considered contained, like the Verdale Fire, even though the fire it has merged with is still out of control (in this case the Simi Incident Fire).

# Acres%
NameLocationDetailsDate Updated
280,278100Cedar Firecentral to western San Diego County (Julian - Ramona - Poway - Miramar - Scripps Ranch - Tierrasanta - Crest - Alpine area)This is the largest fire ever in California. The Cedar Fire began 25 October 2003 at Cedar Creek and Boulder Creek Road. Control of the fire is estimated to occur on 11/16/03.11/6/03
108,204100Simi Incident FireSimi, Ventura CountyThe fire began 26 October 2003, and was next to the Piru and Verdale Fires.11/6/03
91,281100Old Firesouthwestern San Bernardino MountainsThe fire began 25 October 2003 and included the Playground Fire. The fire began at Old Waterman Road and Hwy 18, and is in the vicinity of Lake Arrowhead and south. The fire merged with the Grand Prix Fire on 26 October 2003.
About 30,000 acres were apparently transferred from the Grand Prix Fire to the Old Fire, accounting for the large fluctuations in the numbers for each fire in late October.
69,914100Grand Prix Firesoutheastern San Gabriel MountainsThe fire began 21 October 2003 in the Fontana / Rancho Cucamonga area. Affected areas include Claremont, La Verne, Mt. Baldy, Lytle Creek. The fire merged with the Old Fire on 26 October 2003. On 10/27/03, this fire was divided into two incidents. The portion in L.A. County and the Angeles National Forest will be called the Padua Fire, with the rest continuing to be known as the Grand Prix Fire. The numbers here combine both fires. On 11/6/03, the Padua Fire was 10,446 acres and the Grand Prix Fire was 59,448 acres.
About 30,000 acres have apparently been transferred from the Grand Prix Fire to the Old Fire, accounting for the large fluctuations in the numbers for each fire in late October.
63,991100Piru FireSanta Susanna Mountains, west of Piru LakeThe fire began on 23 October 2003, and is next to the Simi Incident and Verdale fires. 11/14/03
56,700100Paradise FireValley Center area, north San Diego CountyThe fire began 10/26/03. Map11/6/03
46,291100Otay FireOtay Mesa, southern San Diego CountyThe Fire, called the Mine Fire initially, and the Dulzura Fire in some newspapers, began at Mine Canyon Road on 26 October 2003. The fire was 100% contained on 10/27/03.10/27/03
18,705100Coyote FireChihuahua Valley, north San Diego CountyThe fire began 16 June 2003 from a lightning strike, and was contained on 24 June 2003.10/29/03
10,000100Mountain FireRiverside County, near Lake SkinnerThe fire began 26 October 2003.10/29/03
9,000100Verdale FireSanta Susanna Mountains, four miles west of Santa Clarita in the Val Verde areaThis fire is next to the Simi Incident and Piru fires. It was contained by 10/28/03.10/29/03
6,892100Roblar 2southern Santa Margarita Mountains, Camp PendletonThe fire began on Camp Pendleton on 21 October 2003, and is now only burning in the Zulu Impact Area on Camp Pendleton.10/28/03
4,300100Canyon FireSoboba, near Pine Cove, Riverside County (near the town of San Jacinto)The fire began on 7/25/03, and was controlled 8/1/03.10/30/03
2,857100Pass FireRiverside County, Reche Canyon areaThe fire began on 10/21/03, and was controlled on 10/24/03.10/27/03
>2,000100Benton FireBetween Sage and Hemet in Riverside CountyThe fire began on 7/24/03, and was 60% contained on 7/26/03, which was the last information we read about it.10/30/03
>1,600100Agua Dulce FireSan Gabriel MountainsThe fire began in early July 2003, and was 25% contained on 7/4/03, which was the last information we read about it.10/29/03
1,352100Bridge Firewestern San Bernardino MountainsThe fire began 5 September 2003 in the vicinity of the City Creek Fire Station on Hwy 330, 3.5 miles south of Lake Arrowhead, and was controlled on 11 September 2003. 10/27/03
1,155100Tejon FireGrapevine Pass, San Gabriel MountainsThe fire began 6/30/03, and was controlled on 7/2/03.10/30/03

External links with fire information, in order from national to state to county fire information, with miscellaneous links at the bottom:

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Copyright © 2003-2004 by Jane Strong and Tom Chester.
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Last update: 17 December 2004.