Even as a treacherous wildfire burned thousands of acres from Chatsworth to Thousand Oaks last week, environmentalists never spared a thought for the red-legged frog, the white-petaled spineflower or the groves of twisted oaks. They knew nature would take care of itself. “It’s a normal cycle and the ecological balance will return,” Mary Wiesbrock, executive director of Save Open Space, said Monday. “In the spring, there will be more wildflowers than ever.” Nearly 7,000 acres of open space were scorched by the Topanga Fire, which started Wednesday. As many as 3,000 firefighters battled the blaze, which burned a total of 24,175 acres and destroyed three homes, seven outbuildings, four recreational vehicles, one trailer, 34 passenger vehicles and a motorcycle. But officials at the National Park Service and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy said the fire caused no significant damage to their parklands. And officials expect trails to reopen this week at the Las Virgenes Open Space Preserve – the 2,783-acre state park at the western edge of the San Fernando Valley formerly known as Ahmanson Ranch. The state purchased the land about two years ago for $150 million after residents successfully fought plans for a 3,050-home development there. The park is an oasis of wildlife, known for its oak savannas and native grassland, as well as two endangered species – the San Fernando Valley spineflower and the California red-legged frog – both of which thrive in the aftermath of fires. “In the past, both spineflowers and red-legged frogs have prospered from fires,” Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks said. “Their populations have grown.” Wildlife officials noted that some animals – particularly slower species such as reptiles – did die in the six-day blaze. But many others simply fled ahead of the flames. “Hawks and other carrier feeders that feast, they just had a barbecue,” said Marty O’Toole, fire information officer for the National Park Service. “There’s plenty of food, and they can see plenty of prey that is still living because so much vegetation burned away.” Officials don’t have to worry about replanting the vegetation lost to the flames – plants that have survived centuries in an area where wildfires are common regenerate on their own. Oaks survive, O’Toole said, because their thick bark provides protection from the fires. “Even if a branch is scorched or burned, the tree will start sending out new shoots in the wet season,” O’Toole said. “Most oak trees survive very, very well.” Plants such as chaparral, sage and native grasses either regenerate from roots or regrow from seeds after a fire, O’Toole said. They should start to sprout in winter or early spring. Meanwhile, firefighters were expected to have the Topanga Fire contained by Monday evening, and extinguished within a day or two. Fire officials also expected to contain the 1,091-acre Castaways Fire in the Verdugo Mountains near Burbank. Residents of about six dozen homes on Country Club Drive were allowed to return to their homes, but authorities took their names in case they needed to be evacuated again. Officials remained worried about the potential for fires, and the National Weather Service issued a red-flag warning because of low humidity and gusty winds forecast for the next several days. “We’re going to be here until these winds die down, just in case,” said Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Raymond Rodriguez. Officials also were investigating whether a 25-year-old man arrested on suspicion of starting a two-acre fire near Simi Valley was linked to the Topanga Fire. Francisco Ortiz, 25, of Simi Valley was in custody on suspicion of arson, resisting arrest and being under the influence of drugs after a fire broke out around 12:30 p.m., officials said. Fire officials also were working to determine the cause of the Castaways Fire, which they have deemed “suspicious.” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he plans to declare a state of emergency, which would allow the federal government to reimburse state and local agencies for the cost of fighting the fire – an estimate that reached $9.3 million Monday. Schwarzenegger said he wanted to make sure the state was totaling all its costs from the wildfires before submitting the declaration. “It is federal money and we want to make sure we are getting what we are entitled to,” Schwarzenegger said after an event in Sherman Oaks. Staff Writers Rick Orlov and Eric Leach contributed to this report. Josh Kleinbaum, (818) 713-3669 [email protected] For updates about when the parks will reopen, visit www.lamountains.com or www.nps.gov/samo/.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!