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Ventura County

Fillmore Fire Was Set, Authorities Say

Damage: Investigators are attempting to determine if blaze that consumed 100 acres was started deliberately.

September 04, 2002|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A smoky 100-acre fire that threatened a seniors-only mobile home park near Fillmore was set, but investigators said they have not determined whether it was ignited intentionally or by accident.

"We haven't determined the exact cause," said Keith Mashburn, chief investigator for the Ventura County Fire Department. "But it was human set. People called to say they saw somebody running from the scene. And we had another report of a guy throwing a cigarette from a car."

Emergency crews fully contained the fire early Tuesday after it moved 1 1/2 miles east in the Santa Clara River bed. Two water-dropping Ventura County sheriff's helicopters, 15 county Fire Department engines and 150 firefighters halted the blaze about 2 a.m.

It was declared out by Tuesday afternoon, although mop-up crews worked into the evening snuffing out with water and foam any lingering embers inside tough bamboo reeds.

The Fillmore fire was the second in two days, following a five-acre blaze near Lake Casitas on Sunday. They both showed how quickly a spark can erupt forcefully, and prompted fire officials to ask for caution as this fire season enters its fall peak.

"It clearly illustrates how dry this vegetation is," said Joe Luna, a spokesman for the Fire Department. "The fire danger is extreme because of the lack of rain."

County rainfall has been less than half of normal so far this year--one of the driest on record. Temperatures also reached record or near-record highs over the weekend in inland communities. It was 106 degrees Monday in Fillmore, where flames reached at least 50 feet in height and crept to within 50 yards of the El Dorado mobile home park.

"The Fillmore fire started in the river bottom, but it quickly posed a threat to residents in that mobile home park," Luna said. "It's alarming when we wake up in the morning and the temperatures are extreme. It doesn't take much to ignite vegetation, and then it burns violently."

There have been several brush fires in the county this summer. The 22,000-acre Wolf fire in June on national forest land above Ojai was the largest. The cause is often accidental and sometimes is simple recklessness, authorities said. The Wolf fire was started by people firing guns in dry brush near California 33 about 12 miles north of Ojai, they said.

The Fillmore fire could have been caused by a similar lack of care, Mashburn said. It was ignited near the A Street bridge over the Santa Clara River on the edge of central Fillmore.

"It's an area where a lot of people frequently ride their off-road motorcycles," the investigator said. "And people just go down there and hang out during the day. So there's a lot of human activity. A lot of times it's just plain carelessness."

Fire investigators spent Tuesday questioning witnesses in Fillmore, Mashburn said.

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