The search for a 45-year-old hiker from Palmdale who went missing in the rugged terrain of the Angeles National Forest earlier this week had a pleasant ending when rescue crews found him on Tuesday along a remote ridgeline.

A photo the hiker, Rene Compean, had texted to a friend was just enough of a clue for search crews, with help from the public, to find him.

“They were fortunate they found him when they did,” said John Clearwater, spokesman for the Angeles National Forest. “Temperatures were dropping, and at 6,000 feet elevation, it would’ve been another cold night for him.”

But where search crews found Compean — deep inside the Bobcat fire burn area, which remains restricted from the public — has raised concerns from U.S. Forest Service officials who announced Friday a criminal investigation into the Palmdale hiker.

Entering a fire closure zone is a misdemeanor that carries up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, said Capt. Russ Tuttle, Chief of Law Enforcement for the Angeles National Forest in the statement.

Search crews with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department found Compean in the Triple Rocks area of the forest, about four miles into the Bobcat fire burn area, forest officials said..

The area is closed to the public to allow the area’s vegetation to heal and for safety concerns given the areas rough terrain, officials said.

“We hesitate to use criminal action, as we don’t want to discourage people from calling for help when needed,” Captain Tuttle said. “However, people need to know these areas are closed for their safety.”

In March, search crews found the body of Narineh Avakian, 37, of Glendale, a hiker who had entered the Angeles National Forest for a one-day hike.

When search crews found Compean, he was covered in bruises, cuts and soot from the trees and terrain still blackened by the fire from last fall.

Friends had notified Compean about the investigation while he was at work in Santa Monica on Friday.

Compean said he feels he did nothing wrong. He remembers seeing many hikers on the trail throughout his hike and never saw signage about the closure. An avid hiker, Compean said he understands the importance of safety and keeping away from restricted areas.

“If there was [a sign], I wouldn’t have gone up,” he said Friday evening from his Palmdale home. “I would’ve stopped.”

And after a harrowing experience in the forest, Compean said he feels hurt by the investigation.

“It’s one thing to make a statement about safety, but now making a statement and trying to use me for it,” Compean said. “Why did they have to wait for me to get lost to make a statement?”

Investigators hope what they learn from Compean will help prevent other hikers from wandering into the dangerous burn zone, Clearwater said. “Punitive action is not the most important thing for us,” he said.

However, Clearwater said the Forest Service still may bring federal charges against the hiker.

“We want to make sure we have all our cards on the table, to make sure people understand there is potential consequences for going into these closure areas,” he said.

The Bobcat fire charred more than 115,000 acres last fall, the second largest known wildfire to burn in Los Angeles County. The majority of the fire burned within the Angeles National Forest. Officials said it will take decades for the forest to recover. The burn zone will remain off-limits to the public until April of 2022, the Forest Service said.

“Just like any scar, it needs time to heal,” Clearwater said.

The U.S. Forest Service has yet to contact Compean for their investigation. Compean considered reaching out to the department himself.

“I feel it’s like very discouraging,” he said Friday evening from his Palmdale home. “It makes me feel like shouldn’t have texted and I should’ve found my way out back on my own. I probably would have struggled more, but I’d rather be dealing with that.”


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