SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - The Eagle Fire has burned through more than 12,500 acres since it broke out near Warner Springs last Thursday. Now there's concern about an endangered herd of bighorn sheep that live in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
There's concern because only about 1,000 bighorn sheep are left in this region of the country, and 300 of those animals live in the Anza-Borrego area. A local expert says contrary to what you might think, the fire could actually help the endangered herd.
"Fire is a really important aspect of the ecosystem here," Mark Jorgensen said.
As the Eagle Fire moves through the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Jorgensen, a local bighorn sheep expert and retired superintendent of the park is calming fears that the region's bighorn sheep are in jeopardy.
"We've had no reports of bighorn sheep being in any danger. We've had numerous observations by rangers and firefighters today. In spite of all the helicopters going overhead, air drops and fire crews, the big horn are still sneaking in to get drinks of water in Coyote Canyon," Jorgensen said.
In fact, Jorgensen says the fire could end up helping the herd.
"Fire can be a real positive thing for improving habitat for bighorn sheep," he said.
Jorgensen says bighorn sheep do not like dense vegetation, and prefer open, rocky slopes.
"As chapparal gets thicker and thicker due to lack of fire, that means generally big horn sheep habitat tends to shrink," he said.
So the fire could help their population, which seems to be growing. In July, a census done by volunteers counted 329 sheep in Anza-Borrego, the second highest in the 41-year history of the count.
And while the fire burns, Jorgensen says the sheep will adapt.
"They no doubt realize that fire's not a good thing for them to be directly involved in, so they will move off," he said.
There's also concern about the native palm groves in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. It's a popular attraction, but Jorgensen says there's no need to worry about those either. He says fire actually helps clear out competing vegetation and allows for new seedlings to germinate. He says the fire will have a positive influence on the palm groves.
Eighteen-hundred firefighters are battling the blaze, which was 45 percent contained as of Monday night. Cal Fire says an estimated $4.7 million has been spent on firefighting efforts so far.