The aerial hydromulching project on national forest lands in the Gap Fire area is more than 60 percent complete. More than 900 acres have been treated since the project began Sept. 24, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

With weather and other conditions permitting, the project contractor expects to meet the goal of 1,531 acres within a week. 

Once the hydromulching of national forest lands is complete, a treatment phase is expected to begin under the jurisdiction of Santa Barbara County in which some private and nonfederal public lands in the fire area will be hydromulched. County officials say they will use the same contractor, Aerotech Inc.m to help treat burned lands that served as an important fire break buffer for residential areas.

The hydromulching of high-risk areas burned by the Gap Fire is intended to help protect the denuded soil during the rainy season and create an environment in which native seeds and roots already present in the soil can sprout and take hold. The all-organic mulch is made up of recycled paper and wood fiber, water and a plant-based binding agent. It doesn’t contain seeds or fertilizer. A bright green organic dye helps the pilots monitor the application, but fades to a brownish-gray after a few days.

The hydromulch is being applied by a fleet of six small airplanes and one large helicopter working seven days a week, from sunrise to sunset as the weather allows. The fixed wing craft, Air Tractor Turbine AT-802s, operate out of the Santa Barbara Airport. The Erickson Sky Crane helicopter operates from a temporary base on Rancho San Fernando Rey off Paradise Road. 

“We certainly appreciate the community’s interest and support for this hydromulching project,” Santa Barbara District Ranger Cindy Chojnacky said. “This is an important emergency effort, but we know the noise generated by the low flying aircraft can be a bother for some people and we do appreciate their patience.”

The general treatment area, including West Camino Cielo Road west of Windermere Ranch and east of Broadcast Peak, will remain closed to public entry until the hydromulching operation on national forest lands is complete. The closure does not affect private property. The actual mulched lands will remain closed to all public entry for at least one year to prevent destruction of the protective mulch cover. 

For more information regarding the Gap Fire hydromulching operation, click here or call the Forest Service Public Affairs Office at 805.968.6640.

Kathy Good is a public affairs officer for Los Padres National Forest.