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Hiker Rene Compean Could Face 6 Months In Jail, $10K Fine For Wandering Into Angeles National Forest Area Closed To The Public

ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST (CBSLA) — The hiker who was rescued thanks to a picture of his soot-streaked legs is now under investigation for evidently wandering into a portion of forest barred to the public after being burned by the Bobcat Fire.

missing hiker legs
(credit: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department)

Rene Compean, whose text to his roommate of a photo of his legs perched over a canyon led to his rescue, was found Tuesday near Triplet Rocks. Angeles National Forest officials say that landmark is deep within the Bobcat Fire burn area closed to the public for both safety and forest recovery. The area is restricted from public access until at least April 1, 2022.

Angeles National Forest spokesperson John Clearwater said on Friday that the incident is now under investigation and that they have a lot of questions about how and why Compean was able to wander so far into a federally closed part of the forest.

"He was clearly in an area that he shouldn't have been," Clearwater told CBSLA, "and that expended a lot of resources and time and his life was truly at risk."

Compean said he started out on a trail with fresh vegetation, one he'd taken several times before the 115 acre Bobcat Fire last year, but that he got lost during his hike because so many of the trees and signs in the area had been burned by wildfire.

In an interview with CBSLA's Nicole Comstock on Friday, Compean said he wasn't initially worried he'd face legal problems when rescuers showed up to airlift him out of the forest.

"I din't think of that...until I started seeing stuff in social media saying, 'This guy should be sent the bill.' And I was like what bill? He said it was free."

Along the roadsides in Angeles National Forest, signs warn visitors that they're entering a burnt area. However, they don't say it's illegal to be in those parts of the forest.

"Entering a fire closure zone is a misdemeanor crime," Capt. Russ Tuttle, chief of law enforcement for the Angeles National Forest, said in a statement. "It can result in up to six months in jail and up to a $10,000 fine."

Clearwater said that forest officials' primary focus is on public safety, not necessarily charging someone that got lost.

"We're doing our best to try and alert the public, inform the public to stay out of the area for their safety and for the recovery of the forest."

Anyone planning to hike in the area, according to Clearwater, should first go to the forest website where maps clearly indicate areas of the forest that are off-limits to the public.

rene compean
(credit: CBS)

The forest east of Angeles Crest Highway (SR-2) and west of Highway 39, where Compean was eventually located, is off limits to the public. The terrain in the area was described as one of the least accessible locations in the San Gabriel Mountains and is known for its steep, rocky terrain and Class 3 climbing, according to Angeles National Forest officials. The area was further impacted last year by the Bobcat Fire, which burned away nearly all forest signs and location markers as it scorched more than 180 square miles, destroyed 171 structures, and threatened the Mt. Wilson Observatory.

"I would tell anybody that goes hiking never to go to an area that you do not recognize," Compean said.


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