YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Powerhouse fire: Camp for seriously ill children saved

June 02, 2013|By Louis Sahagun

One of the most heroic battles of the Powerhouse fire occurred Saturday night across the street from Los Angeles County Fire Department Station 18 near Lake Elizabeth. 

It was near 4 p.m. when county Fire Engineer Wade Rich looked toward a leading flank of the fire as it boiled over a ridge and rushed toward Painted Turtle Camp, operated for seriously ill children by the Paul Newman Foundation.

“The fire came from Green Valley and was like a huge blowtorch tossing out embers that were igniting fires a half a mile ahead,” he said.

PHOTOS: Powerhouse fire

The 150-acre camp — a nexus of classrooms, cabins, an auditorium and recreational facilities — was surrounded by dense brush that had not burned since 1949, said Rich, 56, who has spent most of his life in the area.

Yet because the winds had been blowing toward the south for much of the day, he said, firefighters “had left this whole north end alone. There was no staff or strategy in place.”

MAP: Evacuation areas, road closures and more

There were no students in the camp at the time, but Rich suggested that the roughly 40 camp staffers take shelter in a dining room equipped with emergency power and fire-suppression sprinklers.

“I found out later they did not take my advice and left the area,” he said. “That was smart of them.”

By midnight, “it was a rip-roaring fire and there was a real battle going on here,” said Capt. T. J. Nielsen, of Nielsen’s Fire Protection, a private company.

Pushed by erratic winds, the fire swept through the area so quickly that local roads were jammed with people in their cars scrambling for safety while firefighters battled multiple blazes. Fueling the chaos were power outages and downed power lines.

Laboring in dense smoke and near-zero visibility, strike teams of firefighters swarmed the camp and using hand tools and camp fire hydrants, quenched the fire that burned to the very edges of the property on all sides.

Despite the huge amounts of chaparral claimed, there was remarkably little property damage to the camp.


New San Diego mayor shaking up City Hall

Erratic winds fuel nearly 20,000-acre Powerhouse fire

Powerhouse fire being fought by more than 2,000 personnel

Los Angeles Times Articles