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Green Valley Black, With Worst of Fires to Come

August 27, 1989|STEVE PADILLA | Times Staff Writer

Winter won't come fast enough for Green Valley this year.

Two roaring brush fires recently blackened the hills north and south of town, burning more than 2,500 acres as the flames swept perilously close to homes. Four smaller blazes also sent firefighters scrambling. But the worst of the fire season--the September days of scorching afternoons and Santa Ana winds--is still weeks away.

"We're on the edge of our seats," said Ron Gebo, a part-time firefighter who lives in Green Valley. "It's scary."

"We wish it would stop," another resident said.

The 1,200 residents of Green Valley know the capriciousness of nature well. It is both their pleasure and, possibly, their peril. And summer and fall, despite the hazards of fires, sometimes pale in comparison to winter, when mud and snow can make life miserable or even dangerous.

460 Houses

Seventeen miles above Saugus in the Angeles National Forest, Green Valley has 460 houses, a hardware store, a cafe and a general store. It is home to retirees and a small group of commuters who drive down the mountain each day to the Antelope, Santa Clarita and San Fernando valleys.

Many residents have learned to take outbursts from Mother Nature in stride. "We don't excite too much, but we do pack up important papers," said Dorothy Deckard, a resident since 1971.

During a fire that burned more than 300 acres Aug. 4, about a dozen neighbors set up lawn chairs outside the Deckard house to drink Meisterbrau beers and ooh and aah as water-dropping helicopters doused the flames.

A. C. Gordon, who has lived there since 1969, said he only became concerned when the fire threatened to close the general store. His fear? "We're gonna run out of beer," he said.

Gordon's casual attitude notwithstanding, the usually sleepy summer has given way to sleepless nights.

At the general store, matchbooks usually found on the counter have been replaced by a handwritten note: "Due to our recent outbreak of fires, all matches are kept under the counter. If you need them, please ask."

Deliberately Set

Authorities say five of the fires, including the Aug. 4 blaze, were deliberately set by children living in or near town. No arrests have been made, and an investigation is continuing.

But Green Valley residents say they know that not all the fires are the result of arson. The summer's worst fire, for example, was started June 28 by a man who dumped ashes near dry brush. It charred 2,250 acres north of town and destroyed one house in nearby Elizabeth Lake. Two Septembers ago, a fire that burned 11,000 acres north of Castaic Lake was sparked by a stray bullet. A surprise drizzle halted that blaze before it reached Green Valley.

Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Scott E. Franklin said the brush near Green Valley is some of the most volatile fire fuel in the county. "We're really in bad shape," he said. "They aren't out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination."

"The summer of '89 is something that nobody's going to forget, at least not in this small town," Gebo said.

Ed Sargent, a member of the Green Valley Water District board, is looking forward to rain. "I welcome the winter," he said.

But winter brings its own hazards.

Sandbags Ordered

Gebo, one of eight residents that the county Fire Department calls on to battle Green Valley fires, said the department has already ordered sandbags to protect against mudslides. Although, Franklin said, the mudslide danger this year is minimal, Gebo is still worried. "We're going to get the hell kicked out of us," he said.

Gordon said winter is often worse than summer. In 1972, Gordon said, four feet of snow trapped the community for five days. A tornado ripped up some trees this past February, Deckard said.

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