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Campers Flee Fire in Azusa Canyon

September 02, 2002|ROBIN FIELDS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fire forced about 8,000 campers to evacuate the Angeles National Forest on Sunday as flames consumed more than 10,000 acres of craggy, scrub-rich terrain in Azusa Canyon.

The blaze began at about 12:35 p.m., leapfrogging across California 39 north of East Fork Road. Speeding north, the so-called Curve fire burned around, not through, the Crystal Lake recreation area, its visitors center, store and other structures spared.

No injuries were reported, but U.S. Forest Service officials said one of its abandoned cabins and another unidentified building were burned.

The fire's pace slowed slightly by nightfall, but agency officials said that erratic winds had kept firefighters from containing it and that it could reach big-horned sheep habitat if it continued.

Forest Service officials have not pinpointed the blaze's cause, but they said hot weather and dry conditions primed the region for such an incident.

"It's really cooking out there," spokeswoman Susie Wood said.

Forest Service officials in the San Bernardino National Forest, where a blaze has burned since Thursday in Lytle Creek Canyon near Wrightwood, spent most of Sunday fielding calls from locals who mistook smoke from Los Angeles County for more trouble nearby.

"You could judge how far the smoke had traveled by the location of the calls," Forest Service spokeswoman Karen McKinley said. "When fires move and eat up that much acreage that quickly, you know you've got a situation."

The Lytle fire was 61% contained by Sunday evening and the Forest Service expects to have it fully contained on Friday, McKinley said. But even at reduced strength, it still threatens the Cucamonga and Sheep mountain wilderness areas and spotted owl habitat, she said.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department is still working to identify a burned body discovered in the fire. Officials have concluded that incendiary materials found separate from the body are probably the remains of a portable methamphetamine lab, but have not determined whether they contributed to the fire.

Firefighters' progress on the Lytle blaze was delayed somewhat to accommodate the police investigation, McKinley said.

In a third patch of Southern California, a fire charred 30 acres of dry scrub in Castaic, but no homes were threatened. The blaze was 30% contained by Sunday evening.

Two hundred firefighters responded to the fire, which started near the Golden State Freeway and Lake Hughes Road, said Supervisor Gary Wise of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

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Times staff writer David Pierson contributed to this report.

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