After months of preparation, the U.S. Forest Service launched a massive burn Tuesday morning to incinerate almost 5,000 acres of Los Padres National Forest that officials say represent a major fire hazard.
The operation, which began 11 miles south of Frazier Park in the remote Alamo Mountain area, has been dubbed the "Alamo Burn." The fire will continue until at least Friday depending on weather conditions, said Forest Service spokesman Joe Pasinato.
He said helicopters will fuel the fire by shooting what look like pingpong balls into the forest. The balls are filled with a combustible substance that bursts into flame upon contact with the air.
"They come out of the helicopter burning," he said. "On this burn, we'll probably fire hundreds of them."
So far, the fire has not generated any calls from the public complaining of smoke. That may change as it grows today. Lockwood Valley residents may be the first to see the flames, Pasinato said.
"This is a good-sized prescription burn, and we are asking folks to stay away from the burn area, which is very remote," he said. "The area has become overgrown. The fire will improve the habitat and lessen the chance of wildfires later this year."
About 50 Forest Service personnel are taking part in the burn, including three engine crews and a helicopter.
"If the burn were to take off, we have emergency contingency plans," Pasinato said. "But months and sometimes years of planning go into one of these. In the case of this going uncontrolled, the chances are about zero."
A perimeter has been dug around the roughly seven-square-mile burn area to keep the flames from getting out of control. Helicopters are standing by to drop water if necessary.