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Firefighters Quash Canyon Blazes

A fire near Modjeska Canyon and another in Carbon Canyon draw crews from many agencies. Four on fire line overcome by heat exhaustion.

September 26, 2004|Janet Wilson and Joel Rubin | Times Staff Writers

Four Orange County firefighters were overcome with heat exhaustion as they and hundreds of others battled two wildfires Saturday. By day's end, both blazes were under control.

The first fire broke out near remote Modjeska Canyon shortly after 12:15 p.m. when heat from a Jeep being driven off-road ignited weeds and brush near Santiago Canyon Road. The first firefighters to arrive from a nearby station encountered 30-foot flames roaring up the canyon.

"There was so much stuff burning and it was so steep," said firefighter Bruce Newell, a longtime Modjeska Canyon resident. "We could not progress."

In all, about 200 firefighters from federal, state, county and city agencies fought the blaze, said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Stephen Miller. Helicopters and air tankers dropped water and fire-retardant foam.

The driver of the Jeep escaped unharmed. He was questioned by sheriff's deputies and released.

"Who would drive off-road up there? It is so foolish this time of year," said a grim-faced Tim Hart, who lives in one of the 300 homes in the canyon area as he watched the firefighting efforts.

Miller said the unusually high temperatures, high humidity and lack of wind overwhelmed the four firefighters. But those conditions also helped to keep the fire from spreading out of control. About 13 acres burned.

"We had a lot in our favor today," Miller said. "This could have been a lot worse."

At 3:30 p.m., visitors to Carbon Canyon Regional Park in Brea apparently started a fire along a trail, Miller said.

Arson investigators have yet to determine whether the fire was intentionally set.

Flames jumped Carbon Canyon Road, quickly consuming more than 30 acres and forcing authorities to divert a helicopter from the Modjeska fire to Brea.

More than 120 firefighters from several agencies responded to the blaze, Miller said.

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