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Weather Lends a Hand in Slowing Brush Fire

Times Staff Writer

Falling temperatures and rising humidity Tuesday slowed a 4,100-acre brush fire in the Angeles National Forest before it could seriously threaten homes and a wildlife refuge near the Pacoima Canyon area, authorities said.

“Things are going a lot better for us,” said Marilyn Hartley, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman. “There’s been an increase in humidity and it is cooler. There was even fog in our fire camp in the morning.”

Those weather conditions helped slow the movement of the fire, which is centered in Pacoima Canyon. Officials said the fire grew only by about 100 acres over Monday night, a period when most firefighting efforts, particularly aerial bombing of the fire with water and fire retardant, were halted because of darkness.

Another 800 acres were consumed during a controlled burn in the Kagel Canyon area Tuesday, Forest Service officials said. The firebreak was ignited by firefighters on a ridge above Kagel Canyon west of Little Tujunga Road to remove fuel from the path of the blaze, authorities said.

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“The fire has really slowed down,” Hartley said. “But there is still a lot of work to be done.”

Fire Crew Grows

The number of firefighters battling the blaze increased by about 250 to 1,100 early Tuesday, the Forest Service said. The fire was 90% contained by Tuesday night and complete containment was expected by 6 p.m. today, the Forest Service said.

Forest Service spokesman Robert Brady said more firefighters were added in an effort to contain the fire before the weather possibly takes a turn for the worse.

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“The threat has been lessened because of the weather but that could change pretty quickly,” Brady said. “We could get a Santa Ana wind condition in here. In Southern California, you don’t count your chickens. . . .”

In Pacoima Canyon, where the blaze was most active, the fire line continued to move slowly down the steep slopes toward a neighborhood northeast of Sylmar. But authorities said that the homes in the area were not immediately threatened and that firebreaks and other containment measures had been implemented to safeguard them. Los Angeles city firefighters and trucks were stationed in the neighborhoods as a precaution.

At the Wildlife Waystation, on the other side of the mountain ridge in Little Tujunga Canyon, a portion of the fire came within about a mile of the 160-acre animal preserve Monday night. But the fire slowed and firefighters, working in darkness, plowed a firebreak between the blaze and the 1,000-animal compound and lit a backfire for further protection should the brush fire begin advancing again.

“Right now, we seem to be very safe,” said Martine Colette, founder and president of the 12-year-old, nonprofit animal refuge. “It came to within about three-quarters of a mile and when you are talking about wind and fire, that is right next door. But now we have the firebreak in and the firefighters have done a tremendous job. They worked all night. We are feeling a lot more comfortable.”

At one point, the fire came within 1,000 feet of Space Ordnance Systems, an explosives manufacturer near Placerita Canyon and Sand Canyon roads in Canyon Country, a company spokeswoman said. The plant, which makes explosive components for the U.S. Department of Defense and NASA, was “right at the heartbeat” of the fire on Sunday and Monday, said Sheila Coop, a spokeswoman for the company’s parent firm, Trans Technology Corp. of Sherman Oaks.

The plant was closed Monday as a safety precaution, Coop said, but its more than 200 employees returned to work Tuesday when the blaze was no longer considered a threat to the area. The fire “has taken off in a different direction,” Coop said Tuesday.

The brush fire cast a gray haze over the San Fernando Valley for the third straight day. It was believed to have been started Sunday morning by a 10-year-old boy who was playing with matches while camping with his father and two other men, officials said. The boy’s name was not released.

Three firefighters have suffered minor injuries battling the blaze. The latest injury occurred early Tuesday when a Peter J. Pitchess Honor Rancho inmate working on a fire crew was injured when he tumbled about 200 feet down a steep canyon slope, officials said. The 18-year-old convicted auto thief, whose name was not released, was treated at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital in Valencia for cuts and bruises after the 1 a.m. fall.

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Times staff writers Steve Padilla and Carlos Lozano contributed to this story.


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