Federal biologists were concerned Friday that a wildfire that has already consumed 143,000 acres was marching toward a California condor nest where a turkey-sized fledgling was close to taking its first flight.
"There are limited opportunities to protect that nest, which is in a cave on a hillside," said Kirk Gilligan, deputy project leader of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Hopper Mountain California Condor Recovery Program. "But, if necessary, aerial water drops could cool things down.
"This fledgling is expected to take its first flight out of the nest any day now," he added. "Trouble is, condors don't generally get very far on their first flight."
The nest is in the Los Padres National Forest's Sespe Condor Sanctuary, along Sespe Creek and about six miles west of the community of Fillmore.
As of Friday morning, the nest was about two miles west of the advancing Thomas fire.
Besides federally endangered California condors, the Sespe is home to mountain lions, deer, coyotes, black bears and a herd of about 30 bighorn sheep.
Arroyo toads, red-legged frogs and steelhead trout, all endangered species, also make their homes in the area. Adult condors are protective but might abandon a chick if smoke and ash from the fire becomes too intense, scientists said.
7:05 p.m.: This article was updated with additional acreage burned by the Thomas fire.