When the U.S. Forest Service finally declared that the long-burning Zaca Fire was controlled on Monday, Oct. 29, many residents who remember a similar announcement last September may have been surprised. The answer all lies in fire terminology. While the fire was declared “contained” on Sept. 2, the status has now been elevated to “controlled.” Forest Service spokesman Joe Pasinato clarified the distinction between the two classifications, explaining that a fire is contained when a containment line is established all around its perimeter, and controlled when it “no longer poses any threat to the containment line” and there is no danger of flames spreading outside of the contained area. Such a line is generally at least two feet wide and consists of natural or man-made barriers such as rock formations or mineral earth that cannot burn.

While the “controlled” status of the fire is an encouraging sign for local residents and firefighters, the blaze is indeed still burning and is not expected to be fully extinguished until winter rains finish the job.

The burned area will remain closed to the public until the spring, both to encourage the replenishment of affected watersheds and to avoid public contact with hazardous conditions, such as landslides, rockslides, falling debris, and residual flames.


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