Election Section

Firefighters struggle to control California blaze

By Sandy Yang, The Associated Press
Friday June 21, 2002

LOS ANGELES — Firefighters struggled Thursday to control a wildfire that had chewed through 1,000 rugged acres in the mountains of eastern San Diego County. 

Morning winds and thick, 10-foot-tall vegetation hampered efforts to contain the fire. But by afternoon, the winds had died down. 

“It’s all nature,” said Audrey Hagen, fire information officer for the California Department of Forestry. “You can’t predict the fire’s outcome because you don’t know what the winds are going to do. The firefighters just deal with it. They don’t think about it. They just do.” 

The blaze near the Cuyapipe Reservation was 25 percent contained. One firefighter sustained minor injuries and three cabins were destroyed by the fire that began Wednesday. 

Meanwhile, a new fire broke out Thursday afternoon in the Angeles National Forest in Los Angeles County. The fire charred 150 acres of brush in Big Tujunga Canyon and was only 10 percent contained by nightfall. However, low winds and a moist fog were aiding firefighters, said Gail Wright, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service. 

Elsewhere in California, lighter winds and cooler temperatures helped crews extinguish two blazes and perhaps turn the tide against the largest fire burning in the state — at least for now. 

Officials said 1,400 firefighters had made significant progress against a blaze that had destroyed 21,760 acres near Yosemite National Park and claimed the lives of three crew members in an air tanker crash on Monday. The fire was 15 percent contained. 

The respite from the high winds was a relief on the fire lines. 

“I’ve seen some of the most erratic fire behavior I’ve ever seen,” said Brian Bunn, a firefighter from Gardnerville, Nev. “Pulling sage brush right out of the ground, picking up 8-inch logs and throwing them in the air — I’ve never seen that.” 

The Marine Corps and U.S. Forest Service were conducting a joint investigation to determine if the blaze may have been started by a campfire set by Marine mountain warfare trainees, said Brigette Baslee, a fire information officer. 

Heavy smoke in the area Thursday prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to post a temporary flight restriction for 12 nautical miles around the fire with a ceiling of 14,000 feet. 

The National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho warned that a low pressure trough could bring stronger winds and even lightning through Friday.