San Juan Fire Turned Back in Two Hours

Times Staff Writers

A fire that erupted in bamboo and brush in a dry creekbed threatened a San Juan Capistrano neighborhood Thursday, but it destroyed only 40 acres of light chaparral and an old orange grove before it was contained.

Orange County Fire Department spokesmen said investigators had not determined what started the blaze. It reportedly broke out about 1:40 p.m. along Trabuco Creek and burned for about two hours. One hundred firefighters from the county, San Clemente and Laguna Beach circled the blaze and controlled it by about 4 p.m.

Home Closest to Fire

No structures were damaged and horses at several stables along the eastern side of the creekbed were never threatened. However, plumes of smoke towered over San Juan Capistrano and were visible from much of southern Orange County, including nearby Interstate 5.

"Red flames were billowing up from the old orange grove below my house," said Miyoko Okuma, whose small, wood-frame home perched at the end of Aguacate Road was closest to the fire. She said the orange grove, only a few hundred yards from her property, had not produced fruit in a decade.

As Okuma turned on the sprinklers in her small orchard of avocado and persimmon trees, a young friend, Kim Vasquez, 16, sat on the roof hosing down the shingles.

Some residents removed furniture from their homes on Aguacate Road while others watered down rooftops, but fire officials did not order an evacuation.

Mahin Sedghi of 55611 Paseo Don Jose, whose backyard is next to Aguacate Road, said she was on an errand when she saw the tower of smoke from the freeway.

"I am very scared," she said, gazing at firefighters and engines that filled the street near the orange grove. "I saw the smoke very much and we own the home . . . . I'm very scared. I came back here . . . it looks like they (firefighters) are doing a good thing, though."

Residents were allowed to enter the neighborhood closest to the fire, but Sheriff's Department and Highway Patrol officers directed motorists away from command posts in tracts near the edges of the fire.

Spokesmen for both agencies said rush-hour traffic was not hampered significantly.

Although fire officials said weather was not a critical factor in how the fire burned, a light ocean breeze carried flames in a northerly direction up a ridge and away from the Aguacate Road homes.

Capt. Lou Furst, a county Fire Department spokesman, said Thursday that statistics were not immediately available on acreage burned in this fire season, which began May 1 and generally lasts about seven months.

"This was just a precursor, a little taste of the real heavy fire season," Furst said. "Generally, October is our time of the year that we experience the real major brush fires."

The county's most recent brush fire occurred last week, destroying about 1,440 acres in Carbon Canyon, an unincorporated county area near Yorba Linda.

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