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Blaze in San Bernardino Forest Chars 2,500 Acres, 5 Buildings

Wildfire: A firefighting training exercise near Arrowhead Springs may have touched it off. No evacuations or injuries are reported as 600 battle fast-spreading flames.

June 01, 2002|HECTOR BECERRA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A quickly growing wildfire ravaged 2,500-plus acres Friday in the San Bernardino National Forest, damaging a wing of a 1930s-era hotel and destroying five small buildings, authorities said.

The blaze, which erupted about 11:45 a.m. near Waterman Canyon and California Highway 18, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, may have been caused by a firefighting training exercise near the Arrowhead Springs Resort, fire officials said. No injuries or evacuations were reported by Friday evening.

The flames spread north and east from Arrowhead Springs into the San Bernardino Mountains, where the towns of Crestline, Twin Peaks, Bluejay and Skyforest dot the landscape.

"The fire is still burning uphill toward Highway 18 and the Crestline area," Fran Colwell, a spokesman for the firefighting operation, said Friday evening. "There's several thousand residents in that area. But so far there's no immediate reports of injuries or direct threats to structures."

Six hundred firefighters fought the blaze. The effort included six air tankers, six helicopters, 22 hand crews and 55 fire engines. For five hours, Highway 18 was closed to everyone but residents of the nearby foothill communities, Colwell said. The road reopened about 7 p.m. Authorities could not say when the fire might be controlled.

Earlier, the fire caused some damage to the west wing of the Arrowhead Springs Resort and Conference Center--now a Christian ministry--and destroyed four adjoining maintenance buildings and a bath house, Colwell said. No one was injured in the buildings, which were evacuated in time, he said.

Bill Peters, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry in San Bernardino County, said the agency was conducting a small controlled burn in the area before the wildfire broke out.

About 30 minutes after firefighters controlled the small burn, they noticed a spot fire about 300 feet away, Peters said. "They immediately called for additional resources," he said. "They tried to attack it, but it got away."

Peters said a special investigative team has been brought in to determine what caused the wildfire. "If CDF is found to be responsible, then we will make good," he said.

From the Cliffhanger Restaurant at an elevation of 5,000 feet on Arrowhead Mountain, owner Gary Hunsperger described a scene of rising flames about a mile below and massive air tankers and helicopters raking the fire. Ashes rained on the deck of the restaurant. "There's no way it's under control. You can see the flames shoot up, diminish, then shoot up again," Hunsperger said

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