Fire scorches 700 acres in Los Padres National Forest

The Associated Press
Monday June 03, 2002

OJAI — A 700-acre wildfire burned out of control Sunday along the steep, brush-covered hillsides of Los Padres National Forest, destroying an abandoned building and prompting the evacuation of two campgrounds. 

Campers left Pine Mountain, about 12 miles northeast of Ojai in Ventura County, as firefighters battled the growing flames in windy, dry weather that included temperatures in the 80s. 

A stretch of scenic Highway 33 was closed and the flames threatened a nearby ranch, said Kathy Good, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Forest Service. 

Air tankers, water-dropping helicopters and about 800 firefighters attacked the blaze, which was reported on private land in the National Forest about 3 p.m. Saturday. The cause was under investigation. 

“We’re hoping to catch this fire in the next couple of days because of unfavorable weather predictions for later in the week,” said Joanne Guttman, a spokeswoman for the Forest Service. 

By Sunday afternoon, the fire had destroyed an abandoned building once used for pack horses, Guttman said. 

Officials had originally estimated 1,200 acres were on fire but revised that after taking new measurements Sunday morning. 

The last known wildfire in the area was one of the largest in California history — 1932’s Matilija Fire, which covered 219,300 acres, Good said. 

Meanwhile, a California Department of Forestry fire chief apologized to San Bernardino residents for losing control of a fire-training exercise that may have sparked a 2,650-acre blaze near homes in the San Bernardino National Forest. 

The blaze was 60 percent contained Sunday with full containment expected by Friday. 

“We should not have burned there,” Tom O’Keefe, San Bernardino unit chief for the Department of Forestry, told more than 130 residents during meetings Saturday in the mountain resorts of Running Springs, Lake Arrowhead and Crestline. “I am sorry. I can’t apologize enough.” 

“There was a very narrow window where we do this kind of training, and we exceeded that window ... There will be repercussions for this,” he added. 

The blaze began Friday near state Highway 18, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles. It came within four miles of Lake Arrowhead and singed a wing of Arrowhead Springs resort, a 1930s hotel now used by a theology school. The fire also destroyed five outbuildings, but there were no evacuations 

Three firefighters sustained minor injuries, including heat exhaustion. 

The fire training exercise was designed to teach firefighters how to burn vegetation in the face of oncoming fire.