Advertisement

2 Boys Playing With Cigarette Lighter Admit Starting Blaze : Leona Valley: Neighbors credit firefighters and each other with limiting damage to close-knit community. About 500 acres burned.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two boys playing with a cigarette lighter admitted that they accidentally touched off a Leona Valley brush fire that charred about 500 acres and caused an estimated $1 million in damage, investigators said Tuesday.

The fire destroyed part of one house, 10 smaller buildings, 15 vehicles and an ostrich, but neighbors credit firefighters and each other with limiting the damage in this close-knit west Antelope Valley community, known for its horse ranches and cherry orchards.

The boys, ages 9 and 10, were released to their parents after telling sheriff’s investigators that they had set the fire, which started near Leona Avenue and 107th Street West, Deputy George Ducoulombier said. The boys, whose names were withheld because of their ages, will likely not face prosecution but will be referred for counseling, authorities said.

The fire, which ignited Monday afternoon, was still burning in an uninhabited hilly area Tuesday, but firefighters expected to have it fully contained by today.

Advertisement

One person was reported injured.

Bryce Worthington, 56, suffered minor burns to his eyes, throat and lungs while using a garden hose to fend off flames that were eating away at his six-bedroom house.

On Tuesday morning, Worthington, a general contractor, said he was grateful that his wife and 11 children escaped injury and that generous neighbors had helped save many of the family’s valuables.

Even so, the blaze took a terrible toll, he said. Several of Worthington’s children were badly shaken by the fire, and it consumed several precious keepsakes.

Advertisement

“We lost some paintings that were priceless to us because they were painted by my mother,” Worthington said. “She died in January, so they can’t be replaced.”

The fire also gutted five bedrooms and a glass-enclosed sun porch. The intense heat caused an aerosol can to explode and fly through a wooden door. Worthington estimated that damage to the structure and the furnishings would surpass $200,000.

His son, Landon Worthington, 26, the only one of his children who does not live in the house, said he rushed to the scene because he knew that his father would not evacuate the home.

“He’s the type who would want to put the fire out himself,” his son said. “It would take a fireman with a gun to get him out of the house.”

Advertisement

Worthington himself shrugged off the danger. “If I hadn’t stayed, the house would be gone,” he said.

A short distance behind Worthington’s house, David Garcia was tallying his losses. Garcia, along with his wife, Eleanor, and daughter, Kristina, moved from San Diego County a month ago into a mobile home on the Worthington property.

While his wife was registering their daughter for school Monday afternoon, Garcia was napping inside when one of the Worthington children knocked on the door and urged him to get out.

“When I opened the door, I saw all the fire on the hillside,” he said. “There were all these rabbits running away. I just grabbed a couple of jewelry boxes and a couple of Bibles, then I ran over to help Mr. Worthington.”

Advertisement

The fire destroyed the mobile home and its contents. The Garcias, who were uninsured, said they lost their furniture, family pictures, birth certificates and clothing.

“Everything of importance was in there,” Eleanor Garcia said. “What we’re wearing is all we have left.”

A Leona Valley feed store owner allowed the family to stay in his trailer Monday night, and American Red Cross workers were trying to arrange other help for them.

Firefighters said far more dwellings would have been lost had Leona Valley residents not been diligent about clearing brush away from their houses. Several residents also credited neighbors with helping to evacuate farm animals and keeping the fire away from structures.

Advertisement

Chuck Crandall, 64, a retired aerospace engineer, said he was running an errand Monday afternoon when he spotted smoke coming from the direction of his house. By the time he arrived, Crandall said, his neighbors were evacuating his horses and a minister was hosing down Crandall’s barn.

“We’ve got a real good neighborhood system here,” he said. “Everybody helps everybody else.”

Crandall said sheriff’s deputies drove through with a loudspeaker Monday afternoon, urging him and his neighbors to evacuate. “Nobody paid any attention,” he said. “It’s just a real strong sense of pride in our community. We’re going to save ourselves if we can.”

Down the road from Crandall, Dick White, who owns the 120-acre Rancho Buena Vista with his wife, Valerie, was afraid that history would repeat itself. The Whites lost their previous house to a brush fire that raced through Leona Valley in 1986.

Advertisement

But except for a few scorched fences, White had no property damage.


Advertisement