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Crews Battle 500-Acre Wildfire Near Lake Piru

No homes or structures are threatened. It's one of several fires being fought in the Southland, with expected Santa Ana winds a concern.

October 24, 2003|Kristina Sauerwein | Times Staff Writer

A 500-acre brush fire continued to burn out of control late Thursday near Lake Piru in northern Ventura County, but no homes or structures were threatened.

More than 240 firefighters and ground crews, aided by water-dropping helicopters and tanker planes, battled the fire in the rugged canyon area. Only 5% contained, the wildfire was moving north of the lake toward Los Padres National Forest, said Joe Luna, spokesman for the county Fire Department.

Although wind conditions were calm, dry vegetation and low moisture levels helped fuel the fire in the mostly rural area, Luna said. No evacuations were necessary, he said.

Firefighters were expected to work throughout the night, hoping to gain control before winds kicked up, Luna said. The cause of the fire, first reported about 12:30 p.m., is still under investigation.

Los Angeles County and U.S. Forest Service crews were helping in the effort to stamp out the brush fire, one of several raging throughout Southern California on Thursday.

A wildfire burning near Fontana and fed by 20 mph winds forced evacuations and scorched 2,000 acres, nearly doubling its size from the previous day as flames continued to burn thick underbrush in and around the San Bernardino National Forest.

As the fire rushed north in elusive bursts, authorities ordered more than 1,000 residents near Lytle Creek to vacate their homes in the early afternoon, said Robin Renteria, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service in San Bernardino.

It is unknown how many homes were threatened, Renteria said Thursday evening. Several campgrounds near the fires were also in danger.

Smoky skies blanketed areas of Southern California as firefighters battled blazes in Riverside, Los Angeles, San Diego and Ventura counties. High temperatures, low humidity and wind gusts were blamed for spreading the flames.

"We're not looking forward to the Santa Ana winds," which are expected to blow into the region this weekend, said Gregory Crawford, a fire prevention technician for the U.S. Forest Service. "They're not going to help the situation."

The mountain fire above Fontana swelled to twice its size Thursday morning, and throughout the day exhibited "extreme behavior" as it zipped across steep and rugged terrain, Crawford said.

Firefighters contained 17% of the blaze near the southern edge. The fire, which began Tuesday afternoon, is expected to be extinguished by Thursday.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, "but the speculation is arson," Crawford said.

Lloyd Readman has lived all his 53 years in Lytle Creek, and he knows every dirt road out of his San Bernardino mountain community, a subdivision known as Happy Jack that consists of about 100 canyon homes. He and his wife Karen stayed put Thursday even after electricity and water died and sheriff's deputies ordered people to evacuate.

"We're not going to up and just move," Karen Readman said. "It's not easy to say, 'I'm leaving my house to burn.' But I'm packing, believe me. We're not going to be fools."

Arson is blamed for the Riverside County fire that destroyed five homes in Reche Canyon on Tuesday and Wednesday and sent one man to the hospital with second-degree burns.

Before the Reche Canyon fired began Tuesday afternoon, three small fires were started but fizzled along Laurel Wood Drive, according to Riverside fire investigators. About that same time in the area, witnesses reported seeing one person inside a four-by-four truck, described as black with an extended cab, chrome grill and tinted windows.

"It's suspicious," Capt. Rick Vogt of the Riverside County Fire Department said. He asked anyone with information to call (800) 633-2836.

On Thursday evening, firefighters were expected to fully contain that blaze, which charred 2,387 acres.

In San Diego County, the fire that erupted Tuesday at Camp Pendleton had spread Thursday to more than 2,800 acres, but was reported 30% contained.

No structures were damaged, but hundreds of homeowners in the nearby De Luz area left for their own safety.

The blaze was started by a live-fire ordnance exercise on the base. On Thursday, the Marine Corps suspended such activity. More than 900 firefighters battled the blaze as it raced through brushy canyons. Cost of the fire was estimated at $775,000.

Near the Angeles National Forest, dry grass in a deserted area of Lake View Terrace erupted in flames that quickly burned several dozen acres by late Thursday.

No structures were immediately threatened in the rugged area about 10 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles. But city fire spokesman Bob Collis said the firefighters wasted no time calling for aid from other fire agencies when they saw how rapidly the fire was advancing into the forest.

"At first it was five acres and then suddenly it was 50," he said. Two water-dropping helicopters aided firefighters from several agencies. The cause of the fire, reported at 4:45 p.m., was under investigation.

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Times staff writers Janet Wilson, Tony Perry and Wendy Thermos contributed to this report.

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