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Crews fight fires in Angeles National Forest, Camp Pendleton

Officials say both blazes are 50% contained and warn people to take precautions in fire-prone areas.

July 14, 2009|Tony Perry and Nicole Santa Cruz

SAN DIEGO AND LOS ANGELES — Hot, dry weather and drought-parched hills are stoking another busy fire season for Southern California as firefighters battled blazes near Castaic and Camp Pendleton on Monday.

No structures were threatened in either fire, and crews made steady progress toward containment Monday. However, fire officials said the two wildfires, along with others in recent weeks, should serve as a warning to people who live in fire-prone areas.

The three largest fires in the Angeles National Forest this year have started within the last two weeks, and the danger level there was raised Sunday from high to very high, said Dee Dechert, a spokeswoman for the Angeles National Forest.

"This is just letting the public know it's getting bad," Dechert said.

The largest of the two fires that broke out Monday, the Osito fire, had scorched about 400 acres in the Angeles National Forest near Pyramid Lake, about 50 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. "It's still hot and dry out there," Dechert said late in the day, after temperatures had peaked at just under 100 degrees. "No nasty winds to speak of, but it's the heat that's going to affect the fire behavior and the firefighters."

Firefighters were successful enough that the Forest Service called off air tankers by the end of the day. "So now it's just going to be what we call boots on the ground," Dechert said, although helicopters were still being used for support.

There was no immediate word on what caused the fire, which appeared to have started near Interstate 5. It was 50% contained by late Monday.

The blaze was reported about 12:15 p.m. south of Vista del Lago Road along the freeway, said Steve Zermeno, an inspector with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Two northbound lanes of the interstate were closed for part of the day to allow emergency vehicles to get through.

At Camp Pendleton, just north of San Diego, a brush fire burned 1,300 acres in the remote northeastern section of the Marine Corps base. No structures were threatened and no evacuations were ordered, officials said.

The fire was 50% contained late Monday. Flames were first spotted about 2 p.m. Saturday. The cause has yet to be determined.

Also on Monday, Los Angeles County firefighters knocked down a two-acre fire that broke out along Las Virgenes Road near Malibu Creek State Park. Fire dispatcher Mike Pittman said the blaze broke out about 7 p.m. and threatened, but did not burn, nearby structures. He said the cause was under investigation.

Dechert reminded Southern Californians to use caution around the region's dry wilderness. "You have to play by the rules because it could get ugly," she said.

Since May 17, firefighters have responded to 79 wildfires in and around the Angeles National Forest area, including the 70-acre Island fire and the 210-acre Tujunga fire, which were the largest of the year before the Osito fire.

Normally, firefighters are spread throughout the West by this time, but a moist June in the Pacific Northwest has made for a slow start to the fire season, Dechert said.

"There haven't been the number of fires nationally that there are normally at this time," she said.

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tony.perry@latimes.com

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

Times staff writers Victoria Kim and Mitchell Landsberg contributed to this report.

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