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Santiago Truck Trail: Fire Damage Report

Posted Jan 15 2009 11:45pm

Charlie, about a mile into the run to Old Camp.

Charlie and I ran the 16 miles to Old Camp and back this morning. It was a dispiriting, exciting, sad, beautiful, sobering and invigorating experience -- but one I likely will not repeat for a while. Why? One of my favorite runs has forever changed. The trail needs time to heal. I need time to heal.

The fire basically torched the first five miles to Old Camp. The last three miles have been transformed into a freshly bulldozed fireroad on which a bus easily can travel -- all the way to the fire pit at Old Camp.

Retardant stains a section of the trail.

Gone forever on this scenic three-mile section are the gorgeous canopies that covered a snaking singletrack whose appeal was almost magical: a twisting journey seemingly deep into the wild, where you never really quite knew what was around the corner. The trail now is a completely exposed, very soft fireroad -- the tracks of dozers still intact; a run stripped of all mystery.

I have mixed feelings about this bulldozed section. I praise firefighters for putting out what could have been a catastrophic inferno. I am sad, however, that establishing fire lines came at the expense of one of the best sections of trail running in Orange County. Oh well. I am blessed to have enjoyed the Santiago Truck Trail to Old Camp for about a year now.

Old Glory is gone, at 3.75 miles into the run. Based on what Charlie and I could surmise, someone removed the flag before the flames chewed through the area. The OCTR journal is intact. The last entry was at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21 -- four hours before the Santiago blaze started.

Old Camp did not burn, and -- perhaps this news will bum out some of you -- neither did the dreaded Joplin Trail.

Some of the worst damage on the Santiago Truck Trail comes just after a mile into the run. Flames totally decimated the trees and most plants (lots of singed cacti remain), giving the landscape a moon-like aura of grim desolation. A dead eagle, burned almost beyond recognition, lay on the trail. How did he get there?

Several sections of the first three miles of the trail have been blasted with Pepto Bismo-colored fire retardant. The splotches of pale red look like graffiti. It looks totally unnatural -- like frosting on a child's birthday cake.

The Santiago fire loosened several jagged rocks off the steep slopes that previously were wedged into place by thick tangles of bushes, shrubs and trees. When those bushes and trees burned, the rocks slid down the slopes. Several sections of the trail now are covered in rocks.

In other sections, limbs from trees that burned or were whacked to piece by hand crews clearing brush almost entirely block the trail. One has to gingerly step around these tree limbs and also the rocks.

From afar, the ashes on the denuded hills look like pockets of snow.

It's clear that the fight from the air prevented the Santiago fire from marching further east. One can clearly see where the fire was prevented from spreading by retardant dropped from above. This war was won from the skies.

There were pockets during the run at which the stench of ashes became pronounced, but overall, the air quality seemed OK. I've had runs at Huntington Beach by the fire pits that were far worse on my lungs.

How do I feel about all of this?

I'm glad I saw the destruction first hand. I needed to see it.

I am in awe of the decimation that fire can bring. I am as much in awe of the firefighters who did such a great job preventing this blaze from causing even more destruction.

The ash-covered journal.

I am saddened by the feelings of bleakness the run generated in me, and I especially will miss the last three miles of singletrack that lead into Old Camp. It's now a two-vehicle road stripped of cover. Might as well put a Starbucks on it.

There are many other trails to run, but I always will pray that the Santiago Truck Trail I knew and loved will somehow return, someday -- like an old friend. It's good to dream. But memories live forever.

This is the road to Old Camp, believe it or not -- the last half mile or so, which used to be pretty singletrack.

On the way to Old Camp, the newly formed truck trail, which used to be singletrack.

At Old Camp, with the start of the Joplin Trail in the background.

Charlie, at Old Camp

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