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Crews Busy in Fire Battle

A blaze in Kern County chars 550 acres, temporarily shutting I-5 and forcing evacuations.

July 10, 2006|Stuart Silverstein | Times Staff Writer

Brush fires broke out Sunday in several areas around the Southland, prompting a traffic-snarling shutdown of the southbound lanes of Interstate 5 in southern Kern County and forcing evacuations of dozens of families there and in San Dimas.

The Kern County fire, reported at 4:40 p.m., charred 550 acres on steep terrain on the west side of I-5, about a mile north of historic Ft. Tejon. The California Highway Patrol shut all four southbound lanes at the Grapevine exit, stopping traffic for five or six miles before the road reopened after 7 p.m.

But later on, as the fire advanced into Digier Canyon, the residents of 35 homes were evacuated to a high school for the night. Voluntary evacuations also were called for O'Neil Canyon and Lebec Oaks, where there are another 75 homes.

Authorities said they had no reports of injuries or burned buildings. Kern County Fire Department Capt. Doug Johnston said 150 firefighters from several agencies were battling the fire, along with two air tankers and two helicopters. Officials estimated that the fire would be contained by 8 a.m. today.

The San Dimas fire, reported about 1:25 p.m., began in a ravine between two housing developments in the southwestern part of the city. About 250 firefighters from Los Angeles County and the city of La Verne responded. After roughly an hour, the flames were put out and the 75 to 100 evacuated residents were allowed to return home.

No injuries were reported, and the cause of the 25-acre fire had not been determined, Los Angeles County fire inspector Jason Hurd said. The fire approached the Rancho Park Villa assisted-living facility in the 800 block of Cypress Way. The facility has nearly 130 residents, but no evacuation was called there.

Another major fire burned more than 400 acres of brush and grass in southern San Bernardino County. Authorities said they hope to contain the blaze -- which was sparked by lightning at 8:30 a.m. -- by tonight.

Separately, an early morning fire broke out on steep terrain in Altadena near Lake Avenue and East Loma Alta Drive, charring 10 to 15 acres before being put out about two hours later by county and U.S. Forest Service firefighters.

In addition, a blaze erupted early Saturday evening in Westlake Village at Agoura and Lindero Canyon roads and continued to burn for a little more than an hour. It burned about 30 acres of hillside, briefly threatening nearby homes and prompting voluntary evacuations.

Investigators are looking into the possibility of arson in the Westlake Village and the Altadena fires. Hurd said the fire season "definitely is starting off very early. We're seeing a significant number of fires already."

In Los Angeles, firefighters responded to more than a dozen fires Sunday, but all were minor and quickly extinguished, said Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey.

The number of calls was normal for this time of year, he said. "This is just the beginning of a long, steady march to the zenith of fire season, in the fall."

In one incident, a crew was called to a smoldering piece of furniture on a sidewalk in the 7400 block of Radford Avenue in North Hollywood. "A group of citizens had pretty much already put it out with a garden hose," Humphrey said.

Times staff writer Nancy Cleeland contributed to this report.

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