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The Region

Gains Made Against 2 Blazes

June 11, 2002|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN and TIMOTHY HUGHES | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A wildfire that destroyed nine homes and charred more than 23,400 acres in northern Los Angeles County over six days was contained late Monday, fire officials said.

In Ventura County, a nearly 21,300-acre fire continued to burn, but officials hoped that cooler temperatures and high humidity would help them bring it under control by Friday evening.

The cost of fighting the Los Angeles County fire was estimated at more than $6.4 million and could reach $9.4 million, according to U.S. Forest Service and Los Angeles County fire officials.

Authorities believe a spark from welding equipment at a construction site on Copper Hill Road in San Francisquito Canyon touched off the flames Wednesday. Fueled by thick brush and triple-digit temperatures, the fire scorched 40-year-old scrub growth in wilderness areas before bearing down on homes and numerous outbuildings.

Authorities called for evacuations of more than 1,000 residents in Green Valley, Warm Springs and Drinkwater Canyon.

"It was kind of like fighting a flow of gasoline," Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Brian Jordan said. "Our engines can only hold 500 gallons of water and it was very difficult to make progress in terrain that was 90% inaccessible. The key elements for us in situations like that are the bulldozers and helicopters."

Pushed by 25 mph gusts, the fire advanced as much as five miles a day, prompting residents in the Leona Valley, Lake Hughes and Lake Elizabeth areas to prepare to make a quick exit.

More than 2,000 firefighters responded to the blaze, which swept northward from Saugus. In addition to the nine homes, 17 outbuildings were damaged or destroyed.

Fire crews were aided by cooler weekend temperatures and increased humidity from coastal fog that slowed the inferno. By Saturday evening, residents clogged canyon roads leading to Green Valley after authorities allowed them to return home.

Although officials declared the fire contained by 6 p.m. Monday, dozens of firefighters remained on standby.

In Ventura County, the favorable weather conditions led fire officials to predict containment of the wildfire in Los Padres National Forest by Friday.

Hundreds of firefighters were released from duty Monday and crews began disassembling large tents at their Soule Park base camp.

The fire has charred acres of dry pine trees and thick chaparral along steep ridges and low valleys in the Sespe Wilderness. Although the cause of the wildfire has not been determined, sources familiar with the investigation have said it was probably ignited by sparks from gunshots fired at a van parked in tall grass behind a restaurant north of Ojai on California 33.

Officials said Monday that since the fire started June 1, it has cost federal, state and county agencies more than $11.5 million. Several roads and recreation areas remain closed.

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