A brush fire burned unchecked in the rugged canyons of southern Orange County today, blackening 3,000 acres and filling the sky with a heavy pall of sooty smoke that deposited a fine layer of ash on cars and lawns as far away as Long Beach.
More than 700 firefighters battled the blaze under a morning sun turned into an angry red ball by billowing clouds of grayish brown smoke. Only about 10% of the fire had been contained by 10 a.m., a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman said.
The blaze began Wednesday morning during a military exercise at the Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton, authorities said. It burned northwesterly through largely inaccessible hills and canyons toward Verdugo Canyon near San Clemente, said spokeswoman Audrey Hagen.
Some residents were voluntarily evacuating their homes in the remote areas off the Ortega Highway near the Ronald W. Caspers Regional Wilderness Park, but so far the fire was burning in sparsely populated areas, Hagen said.
Fire officials feared that a mild Santa Ana condition could kick up erratic, gusting winds that would fan the flames. By mid-morning, the winds were southwesterly at 10 to 15 m.p.h..
Eight air tankers and four water-dropping helicopters were called in to aid the army of firefighters in the effort to quell the flames. The force was composed of 26 engine companies and 39 hand crews from agencies that included the Orange, San Diego and Riverside counties fire departments; the Forest Service; the state Division of Forestry and San Diego city Fire Department.