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Crews battle 3,600-acre blaze above Azusa

The wildfire in the Angeles National Forest started about 2:15 p.m. About 300 firefighters and several air tankers and choppers are being used. Guests at a campground have been evacuated.

September 02, 2012|By Ruben Vives and Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times
  • Firefighters are battling a brush fire several miles north of Azusa. The fire has closed parts of California 39 and has grown to 3,600 acres, authorities said.
Firefighters are battling a brush fire several miles north of Azusa. The… (Jay L. Clendenin, Los Angeles…)

Firefighters late Sunday were continuing to battle a blaze in the Angeles National Forest that had scorched more than 3,600 acres and forced the evacuation of campgrounds known to draw up to 12,000 visitors on Labor Day weekend.

As of late Sunday, there were no reports of injuries or property damage caused by the fire, which started about 2:15 p.m. in the San Gabriel mountains north of Azusa.

The fire was pushing north on steep terrain toward the Sheep Mountain Wilderness area and was about 5% contained, said John Wagner, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service. About 300 firefighters were battling the blaze with the help of air tankers and helicopters dropping water and fire retardant from above.

PHOTOS: Crews battle Angeles National Forest fire

The fire began about 3 1/2 miles east of California 39, midway between Camp Williams Resort and Burro Canyon Shooting Park, Wagner said. The cause of the fire remained under investigation. Soon after it started, a large plume of smoke could be seen rising in an otherwise blue sky covering the Los Angeles Basin.

The area where the fire was burning, along the East Fork of the San Gabriel River, is a popular spot on holiday weekends, particularly in summer. Visitors park three-deep off a two-lane road a few yards from the stream. It's also a favorite destination for hikers and gold prospectors, even though panning for gold is illegal.

The area is patrolled by the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, California Highway Patrol and U.S. Forest Service, which has jurisdiction over the 640,000-acre Angeles National Forest.

PHOTOS: Crews battle Angeles National Forest fire

Hundreds of people live in trailers and cabins in the vicinity of Camp Williams Resort, which is located on the East Fork and includes a campground, mobile home park and restaurant. The area on holiday weekends has always been a law enforcement challenge, particularly for the handful of Forest Service rangers stationed there.

Last week, the area immediately east of the Camp Williams Cafe was teeming with visitors who were cooling off in the creek and picnicking. Some of them, however, were cited by rangers for building bonfires beneath large signs that said such fires were prohibited.

Standing outside the cafe, Jill Coverdale watched the small red-orange flames burning at the top of Shoemaker Canyon Road.

She was one of the few residents who stayed behind, ignoring mandatory evacuation orders as the wildfire burned along the ridge of the canyon, just yards from the Camp Williams Mobile Home Park.

"It was unreal," Coverdale recalled. "The flames were huge, and the campground was packed with people."

The seven-year resident said she began taking photos of her home. She packed the family's RV with food, important documents and clothes. She also loaded her two Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

"We were ready to go."

But she and her daughter, Danielle, who lives next door, chose to wait it out when they saw firefighters pushing the flames away.

Surrounded by fire engines and dozens of firefighters, Coverdale said she wasn't worried.

"We got plenty of back-up here," she said.

ruben.vives@latimes.com

louis.sahagun@latimes.com

Times staff writer Scott Glover contributed to this report

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