Fire danger level drops

December showers that prompted fears of debris flow damage in hillside neighborhoods below Station fire burn areas have also significantly lowered the risk of wildfire for the Angeles National Forest.

For the first time since last January, U.S. Forest Service officials on Friday downgraded the Angeles National Forest's fire danger level from "high" to the lowest level possible.

While staffing and the availability of firefighting resources tend to be factors in setting fire danger levels, the primary reason for the reduced risk level is that forest lands are simply soaked, said Sherry Rollman, the Forest Service's spokesperson on Angeles National Forest matters.

A county rain gauge at the Clear Creek Ranger Station recorded more than 17 inches of rainfall in December. To the east, a gauge near the Inspiration Point trailhead recorded 15 inches in that time.

Descanso Gardens has recorded nearly 19 inches of rainfall on its grounds since Oct. 1.

Officials measure fire danger in the Angeles National Forest with six warning levels.

A designation of "critical" represents the highest likelihood of wildfire spreading and would result in closure of public access.

"Extreme" fire danger status is the next-highest risk status, followed by "very high," "high," "moderate" and finally "low."

"The whole purpose of the fire danger level is to make you aware when you go into the forest what current conditions are and so you know what [activities] you can and cannot do," Rollman said.

The forest's "high" risk designation before the Friday status change meant brush could easily ignite and fires spread rapidly if not attacked when small.

At the current "low" risk condition, brush is not expected to readily ignite unless under an intense heat source such as lightning, but even then would be comparatively easy to control.

Even at the "low" risk level, forest visitors are prohibited from setting off fireworks and firing certain kinds of ammunition; and need permits for fires, stoves and some power tools. Smoking is prohibited except within enclosed vehicles and at some developed campsites, and spark arrestors are required for vehicles, chainsaws and any engine-driven equipment used off of a roadway.

At the "high" risk level, campfires are restricted to certain sites, and parts of the forest most at risk of wildfire may be closed.

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