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Fire 35% Contained as Evacuees Return

Calm weather helps crews fighting the 1,350-acre blaze in the San Bernardino National Forest off California 330.

September 08, 2003|Daniel Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

Hundreds of firefighters made progress Sunday in containing a 1,350-acre wildfire in the San Bernardino National Forest, enabling 1,000 people who were forced to evacuate to return to their homes.

The Bridge fire was 35% contained by the early evening, and work was continuing steadily with the help of calm conditions and relatively mild temperatures topping in the low 90s, officials said. Temperatures were expected to dip into the 50s and 60s overnight.

"That's good. That should help the fire lay down during the night and help them get a hand on those trouble spots," Rancho Cucamonga Fire Department information officer Jeff Wegner said.

Authorities said they hoped to complete a perimeter around the fire overnight because hotter and drier conditions were forecast for today.

Officials said no serious injuries or damage had been reported, though they estimated the cost of fighting the fire at $2.3 million. One firefighter injured his back and another hurt a knee during the initial stages of fighting the blaze. One outbuilding was lost.

The Bridge fire started shortly after 3 p.m. Friday off California 330, about four miles outside the town of Highland, in a brush forest that hadn't burned since 1956. The cause is still being investigated, officials said.

Evacuees from the Enchanted Forest, Fredalba, Knob Hill and Smiley Park communities were allowed to return to their homes after 6 p.m. Sunday. The American Red Cross closed its evacuation center and authorities distributed fliers informing residents that local schools would be in session this morning.

Authorities reopened California 18, but California 330 remained closed as crews used it to base fire engines and equipment.

No additional evacuations will be necessary, said Chip Patterson, a spokesman for the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department.

"It's looking good, but we still have concerns for the east flank of the fire," said Veronica Magnuson, a U.S. Forest Service fire information officer. "It's real steep terrain, so it's hard to get in there and get a line around it."

The burn area also had been affected by an infestation of bark beetles, which left the forest dotted with dead pines. But officials said the infestation had only a minor effect on the spread of the blaze.

"Once the fire has momentum, it doesn't matter if that tree's dead or alive," Wegner said.

More than 1,026 firefighters, five helicopters and 11 air tankers have taken part in fighting the fire.

Sheriff's deputies will continue patrols until at least Tuesday, Patterson said.

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