Drizzle Helps Firefighters in Battle to Curb Blaze

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A light early-morning drizzle and an overcast sky Saturday brought relief to the 1,100 firefighters who have been battling a raging brush fire that has ravaged the rugged countryside in Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties since Wednesday.

The fire, sparked by military maneuvers in the northernmost portion of Camp Pendleton, burned more than 11,000 acres by midday Saturday and was only 48% contained, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Norm Machado said. Four firefighters suffered minor injuries battling the blaze.

Machado said the fall-like weather that developed in the Southland slowed the fire's progress and allowed firefighters to regain a measure of control that was lost Friday afternoon.

The blaze has been confined largely to uninhabited regions of Camp Pendleton, Cleveland National Forest and South Orange County. There has been no loss of property and no civilian injuries, officials said.

But two U.S. Forest Service firefighters were taken to Samaritan Medical Center-San Clemente on Friday, Forest Service dispatcher Dolores Fremter said. One was suffering chest pains, while the other suffered a dislocated shoulder. Their names and conditions were not immediately known.

Saturday, one Orange County firefighter cut a knee and was taken to Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center in Mission Viejo where he was treated and released. A fourth firefighter was treated at the scene for a minor burn, Fremter said.

Friday, the fire advanced more than three miles into the deep canyon, destroying acres of dry brush before the wind died down again.

"There's been no increase in the size of the perimeter since then," Machado said. "The light rain and high humidity have really helped us a lot."

The blaze probably won't be contained for at least the next 48 hours, officials said. The two hottest spots continue to be in the Bluewater Canyon and La Paz Canyon in Orange County.

Machado said the often steep and inaccessible terrain has made it nearly impossible to move firefighters and heavy equipment near the fire line to clear away dry chaparral in the path of the advancing flames.

Saturday's weather, which helped in one way, hindered in another. Machado said that all eight air tankers were grounded because of low-lying fog that draped much of the area.

"The weather was great, but it made it tough for us logistically," Machado said.

The fire started Wednesday afternoon after Marine Corps troops began operating in the firing ranges near the San Mateo Canyon area of the sprawling Marine base. Marine Lt. Patrick Gibbons said an investigation was under way.

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