The loss of insects and riparian habitat surrounding the region's lakes and streams could affect fish populations for the next two to four years, fisheries biologists said Monday.
Where the fires consumed vegetation anchoring banks, soil erosion will occur, clouding the water and potentially suffocating fish.
Ash and soil that settle on gravel beds where fish lay eggs may also temporarily disrupt the reproductive cycle.
"In places like El Capitan [Reservoir], which is way down this year [because of drought], the terrestrial growth that would have provided good habitat for young-of-the-year fish -- a lot of that has been burned away," said Terry Foreman, a Ramona-based biologist for the California Department of Fish and Game.
Foreman noted that major fish die-offs are unlikely and that recovery of fisheries to pre-fire status would occur within a few years.
Two to four years is the typical recovery period for fisheries, agreed Jack Williams, a fisheries biologist who teaches at Southern Oregon University, "even if those stream systems are extremely hit by fire."
He added that fires have, although rarely, been known to kill fish in shallow streambeds.
State biologists have yet to thoroughly inspect fisheries closest to the burn areas.
It may take a week or more before access to lakes and streams returns to normal.
-- Pete Thomas