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Crews Gaining on Gorman Blaze

June 20, 2002|WENDY THERMOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cooler temperatures, higher humidity and calmer air gave firefighters the upper hand Wednesday against a 1,500-acre wildfire in the Angeles National Forest near Gorman, about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

That was good news for Southern California businesses and residents, who were asked by state power managers late Tuesday to cut back their electricity use because two of California's major transmission lines near the fire had automatically shut down.

Power available to consumers returned to normal and the towers were back online by Wednesday afternoon, said Lorie O'Donley, spokeswoman for the California Independent System Operator. "We seem to be doing fine now and we're not as concerned," she said. The agency manages electricity flow for the state.

Elsewhere in California, seven other wildfires had burned at least 36,120 acres by late Wednesday.

The Bluecut fire, 50 miles east of Los Angeles in the San Bernardino National Forest, was 40% contained after charring 7,000 acres. In eastern San Diego County, the Mt. Laguna fire burned 750 acres and destroyed at least three structures. The 400-acre Banning fire, which includes a portion of the Morongo Indian Reservation, was expected to be fully contained by this morning.

Other fires were being fought near Yosemite National Park, on Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County, near Lake Isabella in Kern County and at Patterson Pass in eastern Alameda County.

Although the Gorman fire was only 60% contained Wednesday, fire officials were optimistic because the blaze had not grown during the day.

"It's very quiet. If it stays like this overnight, we'll have a real good handle on it," U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Gail Wright said. Full containment is expected by 6 p.m. Saturday. No residences were threatened and the cause of the fire was under investigation, Wright said.

"It's an incredibly early and dry season, and the least thing will start a fire," she said. Brush conditions are so dry in California that the forest service is asking motorists to stay on paved roads so hot undercarriages will not ignite leaves or weeds.

The fire was reported about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. Fanned by 25 mph winds and aided by heat in the low 90s, flames quickly chewed through desert scrub and chaparral in steep terrain east of Interstate 5 and south of California 138. By Wednesday, temperatures had cooled to the high 80s, the humidity had risen and gusty winds stayed in the 10- to 20-mph range, all helping about 450 fire personnel quell the blaze.

As flames neared two major north-south transmission lines, sensors shut down the 500-kilovolt wires. State energy officials immediately asked some large electricity customers to reduce consumption, and urged all other consumers to cut back to prevent power failures.

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