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Fire crews hurry to make final attack on Station fire

Officials want to snuff it out before the coming heat increases the risk that it will spread. A fire that broke out Saturday in Temecula forcing evacuation of 33 homes is expected to be put out today.

September 20, 2009|Louis Sahagun and Susan Carpenter

With extreme heat and wind and low humidity forecast for next week, firefighters stepped up their final attack Saturday on the Station fire, calling in four helicopters to douse hot spots near Mt. Wilson with water and fire retardant.

Fire officials feel a sense of urgency to extinguish still-smoldering areas and reduce the risk of embers igniting brush during the hot days ahead. Of particular concern were hot spots in rugged, inaccessible terrain on the north face of Mt. Wilson, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Brian Grant.

By Saturday the arson-caused fire that claimed the lives of two firefighters was 93% contained and had cost nearly $84 million to fight. More than 700 firefighters remain on the fire lines.

The aerial assault is expected to continue into next week as needed, Grant said.

Meanwhile, a 340-acre brush fire east of Temecula burned 12 structures and forced firefighters to evacuate 33 homes late Saturday afternoon. The blaze, which also caused a power outage and forced the closure of several roads, was expected to be contained today. One resident suffered smoke inhalation.

The blaze began shortly before 4 p.m. near California 79, south of Vail Lake, said Capt. Fernando Herrera of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. At one point, the fire was burning on both sides of the highway, which remained closed to traffic in the area. Herrera said the fire was driven by 20-mph gusts and was burning in moderate to heavy brush atop rolling hills. The cause is being investigated.

As part of the final push on the Station fire, two Caltrans crews were alternating 12-hour shifts to fix the 33 miles of Angeles Crest Highway that have been closed due to the arson-caused fire -- from 2.2 miles north of La Canada Flintridge to just west of Wrightwood.

It will cost an estimated $12 million and take more than three months to fix the highway, which was heavily damaged by the wildfire that has scorched 160,500 acres, according to Kelly Markham, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Transportation, which maintains the road.

Four miles of guard rails must be replaced -- their wooden posts burned, leaving the metal beams lying on the ground. Hundreds of road signs burned, and many of the thermoplastic markings dotting the pavement have melted.

"Basically, it's the entire road that needs to be fixed," Markham said.

The first priority for repairs is the bottom, or southernmost, nine miles of Angeles Crest leading up to the Palmdale turnoff, Kelly said.

It's not the first time the route has been heavily damaged.

A nine-mile section of Angeles Crest Highway reopened in May after a four-year closure caused by a winter storm that washed much of the roadway away.

Restoring that stretch of the highway cost $22 million.

"Now we're going to have to spend 50% of the money we spent three years ago to get it back up and running," Markham said. "But what can you do? That's Mother Nature."

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louis.sahagun@latimes.com

susan.carpenter@latimes.com

Times staff writers Rong-Gong Lin II and Sam Quinones contributed to this report.

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