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Fires Scorch 1,700 Acres in 2 Counties

A blaze threatens homes in the San Bernardino National Forest, while another near Burbank that appeared contained quickly doubles in size.

October 01, 2005|Ashley Powers and Janet Wilson | Times Staff Writers

A wildfire scorched more than 1,000 acres in the San Bernardino National Forest on Friday and prompted the evacuation of more than 1,700 homes, while a second brush fire north of Burbank doubled in size to more than 700 acres less than a day after authorities had announced that it was fully contained.

Stoked by 20 mph winds, the Thurman fire in San Bernardino County burned largely out of control throughout the day, threatening homes, vacation cabins and camps along scenic California 38, more than 80 miles east of Los Angeles.

Authorities evacuated scores of residents, as well as two overnight campsites for teenagers and a home for exotic animals. Although the blaze's progression had slowed considerably by late Friday, fire authorities said they worried that it would continue moving north into an area of dense chaparral and possibly spread as far as Big Bear Lake.

"The fire has a mind of its own," said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Warren Reinick. "And it makes its own weather."

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for the communities of Angelus Oaks, Forest Falls, Mountain Home Village, Seven Oaks and Barton Flats.

It was in Barton Flats that San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies helped to load 26 lions, tigers and other big cats, as well as a grizzly bear, into trucks for evacuation from Predators in Action, which raises and keeps such animals for use in the film industry.

Although the fire was only 5% contained by late Friday night, U.S. Forest Service officials took comfort in weather forecasts that predicted 40% to 50% humidity today -- considerably more than the 10% to 15% that prevailed during the first two days of the fire.

Throughout the day Friday, more than 650 firefighters battled the blaze as eight airplanes and six helicopters bombarded the flames with water and fire retardant chemicals. Flames came within a mile of homes in Angelus Oaks, where residents of the area along Sugar Pines Circle watched a column of smoke rise as winds picked up in the afternoon.

Joyce and Dave Effinger, both 74, were the last to evacuate the neighborhood Friday, saying they were reluctant to leave their home.

"I hate to pack up everything and shut the dang door," Joyce Effinger said. "It's this sick feeling that you may never walk through the door again."

The couple began packing hastily, however, when a sheriff's deputy told them they had to leave. Into an array of large plastic crates the avid climbers loaded ice axes, crampons and snowshoes. In another container, they put a collection of beer steins.

About 70 miles west in Los Angeles County, two SuperScooper planes from Canada were pressed into service a day earlier than planned, dropping water on the expanding wildfire above Burbank.

The blaze, which started about 4:30 p.m. Thursday, had been confined to about 10 acres at midnight.

But increasing winds fanned the flames out of control again Friday morning, and about 700 acres of steep, brushy terrain in the Verdugo Mountains were charred by Friday afternoon.

No homes were in immediate danger, but officials said the blaze threatened several communications facilities atop the mountains that separate the San Fernando Valley from La Tuna Canyon and the Crescenta Valley. Although winds remained calm, temperatures peaked in the 90s and relative humidity remained dangerously low.

Voluntary evacuation advisories were issued for homes in the Country Club Canyon area. Many residents left, and an evacuation center was set up at McCambridge Park in Burbank.

"It looks better than it did earlier today, but the fire isn't laying down yet," Burbank Fire Capt. Ron Bell said at nightfall Friday. "We hope we'll have a good night tonight and get our arms around this fire."

The twin-engine, fixed-wing SuperScoopers arrived overnight at Van Nuys Airport under a lease agreement between Los Angeles County and the province of Quebec, which owns the planes.

The planes had been scheduled to go into service today, but the current spate of wildfires prompted their deployment a day early. Scooping up water from Santa Monica Bay, the aircraft made repeated runs over the Burbank fire.

Designed and built by Bombardier Inc., the CL-415 is considered one of the most technologically advanced firefighting aircraft in the world.

Capable of scooping up a load from any body of water at least 4,000 feet long, 300 feet wide and 6 feet deep, the plane can fill its tanks in 10 seconds and can carry 1,600 gallons.

Times staff writers Eric Malnic and Monte Morin contributed to this report.

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