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Boy, 10, Suspected in Brush Fire : Shelter for Exotic Animals Is on ‘Alert’

Times Staff Writers

A brush fire allegedly started Sunday by a 10-year-old boy playing with matches burned out of control Monday in the Angeles National Forest north of Sylmar.

Authorities earlier had suspected that the fire was started by campers.

The 3,200-acre blaze was burning within sight of a handful of homes in Pacoima Canyon and the Wildlife Waystation, a shelter for lions, bears, jaguars and other species. But authorities said measures had been taken to protect the structures.

Flames came within 1,000 feet of Space Ordnance System, said Alan Opel, a vice president of the company’s parent firm, Trans Technology Corp. of Sherman Oaks. The plant, which manufactures explosive components of weapons and spacecraft, was not damaged, he said, adding that the company keeps the surrounding area cleared of brush.

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County firefighter Stan Pearson said the fire was raging through terrain that has not burned in 50 years. About 650 county, state and federal firefighters were battling the blaze, which was visible throughout northern Los Angeles.

Robert Brady, spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, said containment of the fire was not expected until 6 p.m. Wednesday.

The fire was one of several burning Monday in California, including a 1,500-acre blaze in Sequoia National Park near a famous grove of giant redwoods. About 600 firefighters, aided by aircraft, fought to protect the 3-square-mile Giant Forest, a grove of 200- to 300-foot trees up to 2,700 years old.

Flames “are right now at the edge of the forest” but a successful backfire broadened a buffer zone around the grove, said Forest Service spokeswoman Michele Case. The fire was 10% contained by Monday afternoon.

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The majestic trees can survive fires because their thick bark can withstand considerable heat and flame, but “a Sequoia tree is fire-resistant, not fireproof,” Case said.

The fire broke out Sunday morning at a camping area on the middle fork of the Kaweah River, about 40 miles northeast of Visalia.

The boy suspected of starting the Angeles National Forest fire is the son of one of three Los Angeles men arrested Sunday for allegedly starting an illegal campfire in the forest, said Sheriff’s Lt. Ed Chenal.

The three--Leonides O. Lopez, 37; Tomas S. Camacho, 26, and Juan R. De Dios, 31--were released late Monday and no charges were contemplated, deputies said. The identity of the boy, who was released to his parents pending further investigation, was withheld. Authorities said it appeared that the boy had been playing with matches.

As the fire raged, employees of the privately owned, nonprofit Wildlife Waystation on Little Tujunga Road were in a “first-stage alert,” spokeswoman Martine Colette said. The animals have been confined to cages, and equipment has been readied to battle the fire.

Colette said evacuating the animals was not feasible. “There is no way to move the animals,” she said. “It is logistically impossible and not in the best interests of the animals. We are ready, and we are here to stay.

“The animals are aware that something is going on.”

Elsewhere, firefighters contained a brush fire that burned more than 800 acres in Riverside County near Hemet, the California Division of Forestry said.

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A 300-acre brush fire burned out of control near U.S. 95 about 20 miles north of Blythe near the Arizona border, Hill said. It threatened some homes Sunday but posed no danger to dwellings Monday, she added.

Several of the fires erupted during the weekend when temperatures reached close to 100 degrees in some areas and dry desert wind gusted to 30 m.p.h.

National Weather Service meteorologist Mark McKinley said there will be a cooling trend over the next couple of days.

Times staff writer Ronald B. Taylor contributed to this story.


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