The portion of Angeles Crest Highway above La Cañada Flintridge, closed nearly two years since Los Angeles County’s worst recorded wildfire blazed through the Angeles National Forest, will reopen Friday, a state transportation official said Wednesday.
Hopes of reopening the heavily trafficked mountainous pass have been dashed multiple times in the past, leaving motorists and folks who work in the forest frustrated.
But rebuilding the most heavily damaged areas - including a 200-foot deep gorge 2.5 miles east of La Cañada - has been a gargantuan task, said Patrick Chandler, spokesman for the California Department of Transportation.
“What's been forgotten by some people is that the Station Fire was the 10th largest in California history. The fire burned out the plants and root systems that hold the dirt and soil in place,’’ he said, noting record amounts of rainfall in December 2010 and January 2011 exacerbated the difficulty of the project.
“Caltrans has had to rebuild entire hillsides - it’s not an easy task,’’ Chandler added.
Two firefighters died during the 2009 Station Fire when their fire truck plunged off a cliff. The blaze burned 160,577 acres from Aug. 26 to Oct. 16, and destroyed 209 structures, including 89 houses.
Angeles National Forest reopened recently to eager hikers and visitors, who can now access 98,000 acres of forest containing more than 100 miles of hiking trails and dozens of camp sites.
The initial closure of the Angeles Crest Highway (State Route 2) was expected to last mere weeks, but without the protections of vegetation, storms eroded and washed out large swaths of pavement. Portions of the 66-mile highway have since reopened, but the 9-mile stretch winding into La Cañada has remained closed, as the most heavily damaged areas remained vulnerable to rock slides.
On hearing – again - of the Crest’s reopening, Newcomb’s Ranch Restaurant & Bar employee Michelle Martinez said Wednesday she hopes it really happens this time. The bar has seen a drop in business since the closure. Motorists coming from the La Cañada area of the 210 Freeway need to drive to Sunland and access Highway 2 via Big Tujunga Canyon.
“I just hope we can start getting our mail delivery again,’’ she said Wednesday, noting employees have to drive to the to pick up letters and parcels. Employees also must drive into Pasadena for kegs and restaurant supplies as those deliveries have stopped as well.
The restaurant’s owner, Frederick Rundall, has become so frustrated that he posted a billboard-sized sign in the restaurant’s parking lot that reads, “CalTrans Please Re-Open State Route 2. It’s been closed for 1 ½ years and finished for the last 2 months. Citizens please call 213-897-3656.’’
Martinez, who said customers constantly ask her about the re-opening, understands people’s irritation at the protracted re-opening process, but said she sees the work that Caltrans and the Forestry Service have been doing, and believes it’s a matter of safety.
Asked if she plans to attend Friday’s press conference that will officially announce the re-opening, Martinez laughed.
“Are you kidding? If it opens, I’ll be prepping for the lunch rush,’’ she said.
The press conference will be held at 10 a.m. Friday on Angeles Crest Highway at the current closure, just north of La Cañada Flintridge.