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By Joe Naiman
Village News Correspondent 

Cleanup effort begins on burned river park areas


Last updated 1/8/2018 at 12:19am

Nearly 300 acres of the future San Luis Rey River Park were burned by the Lilac fire, and the county's Department of Parks and Recreation has begun cleanup efforts.

"As wildfires go damage wasn't as bad as it could have been, which is a testament to the strength of our integrated emergency management system," said Department of Parks and Recreation marketing and public outreach manager Jessica Geiszler. "Agencies banded together to tackle the disaster head-on, and that confined the spread of the fire and limited damage to one region."

The cleanup includes the trimming of damaged branches as well as ash on the ground.

"Any branches that burned will be pruned back so they don't pose a danger," Geiszler said.

"Cleanup is minimal; our team is already working to make the burned parkland healthy again," Geiszler said. "We're pruning burned trees and will continue to clean up vegetation downed by strong Santa Ana winds, mostly palm fronds and small branches."

The Department of Parks and Recreation staff has protocol for a wildfire scenario, and that was put into place during the Lilac Fire.

"On top of the day-to-day services we provide to park guests, we are front-line emergency responders," Geiszler said. "In an instant our priorities can change and we are activated as a public safety force."

Since not all county parks were within the evacuation area, some of those were used for various activities. "We were able to open those up," Geiszler said.

"On Dec. 7 and 8 Guajome Regional Park and Rancho Guajome Adobe provided a safe place for residents with horses so they could prepare their trailers and transition their horses to other evacuation facilities," Geiszler said. "On Dec. 9 the Fallbrook Community Center hosted the Cal Fire and North County Fire Protection District community meeting to update residents on the fire status and provide resources."

Even the San Luis Rey River Park was used in the efforts, although those were restricted to emergency operations.

"In Bonsall, the San Luis Rey River Park served as a key site in stopping the spread of the fire," said Geiszler. "Firefighting crews and equipment operators banded together at this location and successfully made a stand. Other parts of the San Luis Rey River Park were used to land helicopters dropping off Cal Fire hand crews."

The San Luis Rey River Park is also being used for public cleanup efforts.

"The county is providing residents with debris collection dumpsters at the Bonsall road station and at San Luis Rey River Park at the end of Dulin Road," Geiszler said.

The fire itself scorched some trees and ground but seems not to have caused any permanent damage to the park.

"We were fortunate that we didn't lose any structures," Geiszler said.

Maintenance reduced the amount of fuel which could have spread the fire.

"It was fortunate that we didn't lose any of our old growth heritage trees," Geiszler said.

Geiszler noted that vegetation clearance around those trees kept them from being lost.

The post-fire activity goes beyond regular maintenance operations. "It's a little more debris than we're used to," Geiszler said.

The maintenance will also seek to reduce the possibility of another fire spreading through the future river park.

"We're removing anything that poses additional fire risk," Geiszler said. "Year-round Department of Parks and Recreation staff do what they can to mitigate fires by clearing brush and debris. We also do what we can to preserve local wildlife by protecting their habitats from things like invasive species, litter, and natural disasters."

When the San Luis Rey River Park is developed some of the area will be for active recreation, some will be for trails, and some will be for preservation of open space.

"We'll keep doing what we can to help the natural environment flourish," Geiszler said. "The plants and animals that were there can kind of come back."


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