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Wildfire Chars Angeles Forest

Blaze: At least 3,200 acres burn eight miles northeast of Santa Clarita, though few structures are destroyed.

May 12, 2002|WENDY THERMOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A wildfire with a smoke plume that could be seen at least 40 miles away charred at least 3,200 acres Saturday in the Angeles National Forest, threatening cabins and forcing evacuations in a steep, chaparral-covered canyon.

The wind-fed blaze in Bouquet Canyon, about eight miles northeast of Santa Clarita, signaled an early start to the fire season in Southern California after a dry winter, fire officials said. Firefighters were expected to battle the blaze overnight.

Sheriff's deputies drove from cabin to cabin, knocking on doors and telling people to leave the area. The smoke plume could be seen in the Lancaster area, said Sheriff's Lt. Gordon Carn in the Lancaster substation.

By early evening, flames had destroyed an outhouse and a shed, but firefighters said the cabins appeared to be safe.

The number of evacuees was not available.

One cabin dweller said she was so spooked, she was moving out of the canyon.

Katie Porter, a California Institute of the Arts student who lives with her fiance, said it was the second fire this year to threaten her cabin. "We thought, 'How romantic, a cabin in the woods.' But it hasn't been romantic, it's been a nightmare. We're moving out at the end of the month."

At least 650 firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service and the Los Angeles County Fire Department fought the blaze, aided by water-dropping aircraft, Forest Service spokeswoman Gail Wright said.

With dry brush and very little rain, the blaze is evidence that the fire season has begun in earnest for the Angeles Forest, Wright said. "We anticipate a hot dry summer with high fire danger," she said.

Fire officials last month predicted the fire season in much of Southern California would start earlier than usual because of one of the driest winters on record. In a normal year, the fire season starts in mid-May, but some Southern California agencies, including the Forest Service, declared it underway in mid-April.

Firefighters said they thought they had the upper hand on the blaze early in the day, but it jumped a road several times and raced out of control.

The fire was reported about 10:30 a.m. and had spread to 230 acres within two hours. By late afternoon, flames whipped by gusty winds had consumed nearly 1,000 acres. Fire officials said they could not predict when the blaze might be contained.

"They're going to have people on it all night," Wright said.

Most of the cabins are recreational residences used seasonally or on weekends, but some people live there year-round, Wright said. Many of the structures were built in the 1930s, she said.

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Times staff writer Zanto Peabody contributed to this report.

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