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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Hot Spots : Residents Crowd Beaches; Firefighters Battle Blazes

July 06, 1999|CATHERINE SAILLANT and MATT SURMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Firefighters spent Monday battling brush fires near Simi Valley and Lake Casitas while civilians took advantage of hot blue skies, and one last day off, to bask in the sun at Ventura County's beaches and parks.

By late Monday, the Simi Valley blaze had swept through 75 acres of grazing land about two miles north of the city near Tapo Canyon and Bennett roads, Ventura County fire officials said.

Firefighters with water-dropping helicopters and air tankers dumped fire retardant to douse the flames, which were expected to be fully contained by late Monday. Because of the blaze's remote location, no homes were threatened and no one was injured, said Ventura County fire spokesman Joe Luna.

The fire started around 11:20 a.m. when electrical wires fell on a barbed-wire fence, throwing sparks onto grasses, Luna said. About 160 firefighters from Ventura and Los Angeles counties, the U.S. Forest Service and the state Department of Forestry responded to the blaze, he said.

An hour after the fire was reported, a thick white plume of smoke could be seen drifting above Simi Valley's northern hills. Simi Valley residents could smell smoke most of the day.

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A second fire erupted around 3:30 p.m. at the northern edge of Lake Casitas near Highway 150 and Coyote Creek, Luna said. The slow-burning blaze had scorched fewer than 5 acres of brush by late Monday and was fully extinguished by 9 p.m., the fire spokesman said.

The cause of the fire was under investigation, but Luna said the area is close to a campground that had been filled with Independence Day revelers over the three-day weekend.

"It could have been a campfire, it could have been fireworks," Luna said. "We just aren't sure yet."

For many other county residents, Monday was a day to whiff barbecue smoke and suntan lotion. With highs reaching 90 degrees in Simi Valley and near 80 at the coast, people headed in droves for parks, beaches and air-conditioned malls.

Cindy Stancil brought her two young sons to Ventura to soak up the rays near the Ventura Pier. Trent, 5, and Michael, 4, each carried plastic shovels and busily dug sand near their mother.

"We came here on a mission--to build a sandcastle," said Stancil, 39, an Oxnard freelance writer.

The beaches were filled with families soaking up sun and salt air while sea gulls patrolled overhead for scraps. Like others, Stancil said it was a relief to escape the gloomy fog that has shrouded much of Ventura County's coastal areas in recent weeks.

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"It's been miserable until yesterday," she said. "The Fourth of July was beautiful, and today is just as great."

State lifeguard Andy Clarke said Monday's crowd, estimated at 5,000, was the largest to hit the beach this summer. A strong swell kept Clarke and other lifeguards busy pulling 10 swimmers out of a strong current.

The ocean was also a tough place for one man riding the waves on a personal watercraft. The man, whose identity was not available, broke his leg riding the boat near the Ventura Harbor, said state lifeguards dispatcher Scott Parrish.

The man was able to float back to shore while clutching his vehicle, Parrish said. Paramedics transported the man to Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura for treatment.

Not everyone used the final day of their Independence Day holiday to relax. Tom Stroebe opted for a strenuous game of volleyball at Conejo Creek Park in Thousand Oaks. Stroebe and three friends sweated as they spiked balls back and forth, wearing socks to protect their feet from the hot sand.

"It's this or the couch," said Stroebe, an insurance claims agent, as he took a break to gulp water. "I prefer this."

Jane Clancy, 38, a part-time physical education teacher, agreed that hard play has its own rewards. Her two daughters played nearby in a cool creek.

"This is stress release," Clancy said. "You play until you're exhausted."

Crowded campgrounds began thinning out Monday morning. McGrath State Beach near Oxnard was booked solid through the weekend, but by Monday afternoon only 60 of the 170 spots were filled.

Sherman Oaks resident Rollin Jewett and his girlfriend, Debbie Ables, decided to stay on through today. The highlight of their trip was a far-off view of Ventura's fireworks Sunday and watching neighboring campers set off a few illegal ones, Ables said.

"They were pretty spectacular," Ables said of the unsanctioned pyrotechnics. "They whistled and exploded and zigzagged through the air."

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Though traffic was slow on southbound Highway 101 from Santa Barbara all the way to Los Angeles, there were few accidents through early Monday evening, the California Highway Patrol said.

However, at about 1:40 Monday morning a car crashed into a tree on Lynn Road north of Lotus Avenue in Thousand Oaks. The driver, Tracy Angela Ford, 18, was in serious condition at Los Robles Medical Center Monday evening.

It is unclear why Ford's car left the roadway. The Ventura County Sheriff's Department is investigating.

A Ventura man, Demitro Morales, who suffered major head and hand injuries in an accident just north of Highway 126 on Saturday morning, remains in critical condition at Ventura County Medical Center.

Between 6 p.m. Friday and early Monday evening, the CHP had made 23 drunk-driving arrests.

Saillant is a Times staff writer and Surman is a Times Community News reporter.

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