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Burning Car Ignites a New Brush Fire in Santa Clarita

Safety: The blaze, about 70% contained by evening, blackens roughly 60 acres and threatens homes. Two freeway lanes are closed.

July 10, 2002|SUFIYA ABDUR-RAHMAN and MANUEL GAMIZ JR. | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

For the second day in a row, a brush fire Tuesday threatened homes in Santa Clarita and caused traffic backups on a local freeway.

Flames were moving toward homes near Calgrove Boulevard and La Salle Canyon Drive about an hour after a car fire on the Golden State Freeway sparked the blaze about 4 p.m., authorities said. More than 60 acres of hilly terrain had burned by 7:30 p.m., with the fire about 70% contained, Los Angeles County fire officials said.

Although flames came close, no homes were damaged as water-dropping helicopters and about 400 firefighters battled the blaze, fire officials said.

Four firefighters suffered heat exhaustion, authorities said.

The Golden State Freeway remained open, but two of the four northbound lanes were closed beginning at Weldon Canyon Road, about five miles south of Calgrove Boulevard, said California Highway Patrol Officer Vince Ramirez.

An evacuation center was set up at Wiley Canyon Elementary School in Newhall.

County officials said firefighters were getting the upper hand on the blaze by early evening.

"Luckily the weather was cooperating with us and that allowed the fire to burn slowly and allowed us to save the 100 homes in the path of the fire," said Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Ed Osorio.

The flames burned within 30 to 100 yards of most of the homes on La Salle Canyon Drive--many of them half-million dollar residences on acre lots. Homeowners said they were grateful for the prompt response from firefighters.

"Essentially, behind every house they had a firefighter with a hose at the ready," said Dennis Kuba, 52, a Disney executive. "The firefighter at my house was wetting everything down--the trees and the house--with foam and water."

His wife, Joan Kuba, added: "They are certainly heroes. I thought so before, but now they are my personal heroes."

A day earlier, a separate brush fire heavily damaged one home, threatened at least 200 others in Santa Clarita and caused the temporary shutdown of the Antelope Valley Freeway during the afternoon rush hour.

The cause of Monday's fire, which started about 12:30 p.m. at San Fernando Road and the Antelope Valley Freeway and burned 250 acres, remained unknown, fire officials said.

More than 400 firefighters from Los Angeles County, the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies fought the blaze, which closed the Antelope Valley Freeway for much of Monday afternoon.

One firefighter suffered a twisted ankle and four others had heat exhaustion.

The blaze, pushed by strong winds, heavily damaged the three-bedroom home that Mike Zeballos, 32, shares with his fiancee, Lorena Acevedo, 30.

Authorities said the home in the 19600 block of Crystal Spring Court caught fire after flying embers landed on its wood shake roof and quickly consumed the home.

When Zeballos and Acevedo--stuck in traffic on the Antelope Valley Freeway--arrived at the house about 7 p.m., the roof had already collapsed and most of their belongings were soaked and darkened by smoke and ash.

"We bought this house as a fixer-upper," said Zeballos, who moved into the Golden Valley neighborhood about a year ago. "We were planning to do a lot of work on the house, but we just did not have time."

Acevedo, still visibly shaken, said, "The roof was the first thing we wanted to work on."

The couple plan to get married Friday, but had no immediate plans regarding the house. Fortunately, Zeballos said, no one was injured and their dogs were safe.

Residents and fire officials warned that wooden roofs can be dangerous, especially in areas where fires are frequent.

The wood shake roof on Kathy Bell's house also caught fire from the flying embers. That fire was quickly extinguished by a sprinkler system on her roof and firefighters who were already in the Golden Valley neighborhood extinguishing flames.

"I had to hug those firefighters," said 52-year-old Bell, who started calling for estimates for a new roof on Tuesday morning. "They saved my house."

As she threw out handful after handful of scorched geraniums Tuesday morning, Pam Grisaffi, 46, said she was saddened by her neighbors' losses but believes the latest fire will prepare the neighborhood for the future.

"This was too close," said Grisaffi, who has lived in the area for 18 years. "Most people who live in this area have seen or heard of fires jumping the freeway, but they are always stopped before they get to the homes. Well, now we know that it can happen, and we have to be ready."

Times staff writers Andrew Blankstein, Wendy Thermos and David Pierson contributed to this report.

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