Janesville74.3°

Wildfire grows, spoiling LA-area holiday plans

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staff, Gazette
September 4, 2012

— A wildfire northeast of Los Angeles spoiled the Labor Day holiday of thousands of visitors to the Angeles National Forest as firefighters bore down for what figured to be a long fight against the big blaze.

Picnickers hoping to spend the day in the forest Monday ran into firefighters’ road blocks instead as a large swath of the forest was closed to visitors, though the fire was moving away from inhabited areas.

Victor Saldana Jr. had a cooler full of food and drinks in the back of his pickup and was headed toward the mountains before he was forced to turn around.

“I requested the day off from work, we were looking for a nice time out today,” Saldana told NBC4. “It’s good that the government’s taking precautions, but at the same time it kind of ruins a lot of people’s plans.”

A day after the wildfire broke out near a campground and forced the evacuation of thousands of recreation-seekers and a few dozen residents it had grown to more than 3,600 acres, or roughly 5½ square miles, and was just five percent contained.

Officials set up an incident management team early Monday morning to map out a long-term strategy to battle the blaze, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Angie Lavell said.

Only light winds were blowing in the area, and the flames continue to burn deeper into a wilderness area away from any structures.

The forest is heavily used by Southern California residents because it is a short drive from very populated areas.

Campgrounds that typically attract up to 12,000 visitors on the holiday weekend, as well as rehabilitation centers and the private mobile home community of Camp Williams Resort, were evacuated on Sunday.

About 30 of the 75 residents of the mobile home park chose to remain with their homes.

Daniel Burress, a 68-year-old who is known to park residents as “grandpa,” said he has never evacuated, even when wildfires were far closer.

“I’m a Vietnam vet,” Burress told the Los Angeles Times. “So this doesn’t scare me at all.”

The Red Cross has set up an evacuation center at Glendora High School.

Officials said campgrounds, while not in the line of the fire, had to be emptied so that the only road in and out of the San Gabriel Canyon could be open just for fire trucks and emergency vehicles.

About 300 firefighters were aided by six water-dropping helicopters, an air tanker and 25 engines. Fire officials activated the use of a DC-10 capable of dropping thousands of gallons of retardant.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

Another wildfire broke out Sunday in Ventura County in the Los Padres National Forest. Forest Service firefighters stopped its growth after it burned about 30 acres.

In Northern California, firefighters spent Monday focusing on the rugged and remote northern edge of a weeks-old fire in Mendocino County. Full containment is expected by Sept. 10.

More than 1,600 firefighters continue to battle the blaze, which has scorched more than 65 square miles and remained at 58 percent contained.



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