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The Region

Firefighters Gain Ground on Blaze

Battle: Dying winds are a help in fight against wildfire in Orange County back country. Authorities expect to be able to declare it contained by tonight.

January 25, 2002|DAN WEIKEL and JANET WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Hampered by steep terrain but assisted by changing weather, about 500 firefighters Thursday battled a day-old brush fire that threatened a colony of historic cabins in the Orange County back country.

The fire, which started late Wednesday afternoon, came close to 50 rustic dwellings in the Holy Jim Canyon and Trabuco Canyon areas of the Cleveland National Forest before the roaring winds suddenly slowed and the flames died down. Authorities said 25 to 35 people were evacuated.

"The flames were uncomfortably close, about 20 to 30 feet away," said Beep Colclough, treasurer of the Holy Jim Cabin Owners Improvement Assn., whose husband, Steve, is chief of the Holy Jim Volunteer Fire Department.

Authorities said the blaze had burned 100 to 125 acres by Thursday afternoon and was no longer a threat to the cabins, many of which were built in the 1920s and 1930s. The Holy Jim Canyon area--named after a long-ago settler with a fondness for profanity--has not been touched by fire for 20 years.

Although crews were still hosing down hotspots along creek beds and charred ridge tops, U.S. Forest Service officials reported that most of the fire had been extinguished. If the winds don't increase in the days ahead, authorities said, the fire probably will be declared contained by this evening and designated under control by Sunday afternoon.

"This has been a difficult fire to fight," said Kathy Bacon, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service. "It's a very rural setting with narrow roads and steep terrain that is hard for firefighters to work in. The winds were a real problem Wednesday night, but they have died down since then."

Among those fighting the blaze are crews from the Orange County and Los Angeles County fire departments, the U.S. Forest Service and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

They began using five water-dropping helicopters Thursday morning. No property damage or serious injuries have been reported.

The fire, the cause of which is under investigation, was reported at 5:37 p.m. Wednesday. Authorities said it appeared to have started at the far end of Trabuco Creek Road.

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Times staff writers Christine Hanley and David Reyes contributed to this report.

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