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Fire Claims 6 More Homes

Firefighting: More than 15,000 acres are burned and 1,100 residents evacuated, some to high schools in Palmdale and Saugus.

June 07, 2002|CAROL CHAMBERS, MICHAEL KRIKORIAN and ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A wind-whipped brush fire burned out of control in northern Los Angeles County on Thursday, scorching more than 15,600 acres, damaging high-voltage power lines and prompting officials to evacuate at least 1,100 residents from their houses and small ranches in Green Valley.

Six houses were destroyed Thursday by the fire, which also burned through a home Wednesday a few hours after the blaze started about 2:30 p.m. No one had been seriously hurt as of late Thursday, though several firefighters suffered minor injuries, authorities said.

The fire, which began on Copper Hill in San Francisquito Canyon, picked up momentum as it burned through thick brush in the Angeles National Forest. Flames were fueled by high winds, triple-digit temperatures and low humidity, fire officials said. The blaze, which authorities said was of suspicious origin, was roughly 5% contained by 8 p.m. Thursday.

"It's horrible, ashes falling everywhere, the sun was blood-red and the house was pitch-black,'' said Steve Jolliffe, 33, a Green Valley homeowner who with his wife, Sonya, was evacuated to Saugus High School. "The houses are empty up there. It was eerie."

More than 2,000 firefighters from across Southern California were aided by water-dropping helicopters and fixed-wing air tankers, said L.A. County Fire Inspector Mike Brown.

Over the two-day period five firefighters reported minor injuries, including cuts and heat cramps, Brown said. Fire officials evacuated 500 homes, a camp used primarily by firefighter inmates and two Los Angeles County Probation Department camps in Lake Hughes.

Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Kurt Schaefer said fire officials were investigating the cause of the blaze. ''We can't say it was arson and can't say it wasn't arson," said Schaefer, who added that inspectors have determined the fire began near a construction site just north of Copper Hill Drive, west of McBean Parkway in Valencia.

The California Highway Patrol closed San Francisquito Canyon Road, Elizabeth Lake Road, Bouquet Canyon Road and Spunky Canyon Road. Evacuation sites were set up at Highland High School in Palmdale and Saugus High.

Off San Francisquito Canyon Road, a half-mile from the center of town, flames leaped 200 feet, threatening to jump the road. Suddenly, the wind shifted. Within seconds, the side of a small mountain was ablaze.

"It's a big one,'' said Jim Snow, a 26-year veteran of the U.S. Forest Service. ''It's just so dry. It's up to the wind now.''

Firefighters could not save six homes Thursday. The day before, eight structures were lost, including a house in San Francisquito Canyon and seven sheds, barns and other outbuildings.

Smoke from flames, rising as high as 50 feet, damaged two high-voltage power transmission lines, which were briefly shut down. But state power officials said the damage had no effect on customers because supplies were rerouted.

Firefighters continued their assault Thursday on a fast-moving wildfire that has scorched nearly 20,000 acres in the Los Padres National Forest north of Ojai and is now threatening ancient Native American ruins and the habitat of several endangered animals.

The Wolf Fire is believed to already have burned the habitat of two endangered species--the arroyo toad and steelhead trout. A huge wall of fire--four football fields wide and 100 feet high in some areas--showed no signs of slowing Thursday after it cut a furious path east through the Sespe Wilderness on Wednesday night.

With more than 1,700 firefighters battling the blaze, the six-day Wolf Fire has cost state and county agencies more than $4 million. The fire was 15% contained.

On Thursday, the blaze sped east along six miles of peaks and valleys near Pine Mountain Ridge and continued to burn in dozens of hot spots in the Sespe Wilderness.

Three smaller fires in the Angeles and San Bernardino national forests were contained or nearly contained by Thursday night.

The U.S. Forest Service said the largest of the three, which charred about 2,700 acres and destroyed two commercial buildings, four storage sheds and a trailer in the San Bernardino Mountains north of Lake Arrowhead, was 100% contained. Three firefighters suffered minor injuries battling the blaze, which may have spread from a small fire deliberately set during a training exercise a week ago.

A 430-acre fire that began Sunday in the San Jacinto Mountains east of Hemet was declared fully contained. Also fully contained was a fire in the San Gabriel Mountains that blackened about 125 acres of chaparral on the slopes of Susana Canyon, about 15 miles north of Azusa. Officials said that fire, which started Monday, may have been caused by a campfire.

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Times staff writers Sufiya Abdur-Rahman, Andrea Perera, Eric Malnic and Timothy Hughes contributed to this story.

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