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75-Acre Brush Fire in La Verne Linked to Fireworks

July 07, 1988|MICHAEL MILSTEIN | Times Staff Writer

LA VERNE — Fireworks may have caused a wind-whipped brush fire that burned more than 75 acres Friday and threatened several expensive homes, investigators said this week.

"We have some proof that it was in fact some illegal fireworks," said Ron Sillo, La Verne fire marshal. "We don't know whether they accidentally started the fire or whether it was done intentionally, but it looks like fireworks."

Flames broke out on a brushy, cactus-studded hillside on the eastern edge of La Verne just after 3 p.m. Friday. Fanned by 15 m.p.h. winds, the blaze quickly spread eastward up the ridge toward about a dozen homes along Summit and Roughrider Roads, in an unincorporated section of Los Angeles County between La Verne and Claremont.

About 200 firefighters from La Verne, Pomona and several other San Gabriel Valley cities and the county Fire Department battled the blaze for about four hours before finally bringing it under control.

No homes were damaged, and several firefighters sustained minor injuries, which are inherent to working in rough terrain, said La Verne Fire Department Capt. Phil Davis.

Although helicopters dropped fire retardant that quickly tamed the more intense flames, firefighters worked late into the night cutting a fire break and kept watch for flare-ups through the weekend.

"If Mother Nature's going to do some damage, she will," county fire spokesman Ken Sotro said at the scene. "The wind is so unpredictable, we've really got to be careful."

Another brush fire occurred about 4 p.m. Tuesday near the intersection of San Dimas Canyon and Golden Hills roads in the far northwest corner of La Verne. That blaze burned 3 acres and threatened 60 homes in the Mountain Springs Ranch subdivision, where worried residents sprayed their roofs with garden hoses. The fire came within about 200 yards of a few homes.

City and county firefighters controlled the fire about an hour later, and no damage or injuries were reported. Investigators were not sure what caused the blaze.

Sillo said remnants of fireworks were found near where the fire started Friday, but, he said, further investigation will be needed to directly link the pyrotechnics to Friday's blaze.

La Verne allows the sale of so-called "safe and sane" fireworks, which emit sparks but generally do not fly through the air or explode. The city bans the use of more potent firecrackers.

Friday's blaze threatened homes in two places: La Verne, where the fire started, and on ridges of county land where about a dozen homes were directly in the path of the flames. Rugged, vacant land lies in between.

Firefighters said the blaze began on the hillside next to the home of Carol Savold on Esperanza Drive in La Verne. Within 10 feet of the well-kept house, blackened brush proved the fire's presence.

"I didn't understand how quickly something like that can happen," she said. Savold and her husband, Jim, moved from New Jersey to Southern California in September.

"There's something not fair about this at all," Jim Savold said. "It's taken away our beautiful hill. It's taken away our wildlife."

But he praised the firefighters' quick response and dedication. "They don't even know me, but they were fighting like it was their house," he said.

Although homes were spared, the blaze damaged five wooden poles holding up 66,000-volt Southern California Edison power transmission lines. Because the cables do not directly serve customers, no homes were affected, Edison spokesman David Barron said.

The lines were back in service July 4, he said.

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