Victory Over Castaic Fire Near, Officials Say


After seven days of battling the Marple fire in the mountains north of Castaic, firefighters inched closer to final victory Monday, even as a second 600-acre blaze threatened Wrightwood on the Angeles Crest Highway, fire officials said.

The battle against the fires continued amid growing concerns that the coming fire season may be the worst since 1981--and one of the earliest.

“The vegetation is in an extremely hazardous condition, it’s very dry,” said Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Rob Graham.


The fire near Wrightwood, just over the San Bernardino County line, began Sunday. It was only half a mile from the town Monday, but was 25% contained, with full containment expected Wednesday at 6 p.m., officials said.

The Marple fire has charred 21,500 acres of brush--or more than 33 square miles--making it the largest brush fire in Los Angeles County since 1993. The fire was 90% contained Monday and fire officials continued to predict full containment by 6 p.m. today.

The fire continued to burn in a remote area at the northern end of the Angeles National Forest, between Lancaster and Gorman.

“We have approximately six miles of open lines yet to construct,” on the northern end of the fire, said Sonia Berry, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service.

There were no deaths or serious injuries related to the Marple fire. But several minor injuries were suffered by the 2,000 firefighters deployed at the height of the blaze, who contended not only with the flames but hot weather, rattlesnakes and bees.

On Monday, 954 firefighters fought the blaze in temperatures ranging from 85 to 94 degrees, cooler than the 106-degree temperatures experienced last week.


Although forecasters predicted gusts of more than 15 mph for Monday, afternoon winds blew in from the south at a mild 3-8 mph.

“The winds are cooperating,” Berry said.

The Marple fire forced the closure of the Castaic Lake Recreation Area, spoiling holiday plans by hundreds of would-be lake visitors. The recreation area will remain closed indefinitely while it serves as a base camp for firefighters, U.S. Forest Service officials said.

The blaze started last Monday near the Golden State Freeway in a lightly populated area north of Castaic.

Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies said a 15-year-old San Fernando boy who was arrested as he walked away from the area where the fire started later admitted that he started the blaze on a whim. He denied the accusation however when he was charged with two counts of arson in Sylmar Juvenile Court last week.

No residences have been destroyed in the Marple fire, although several outbuildings, sheds and other structures have been damaged. But the cost of fighting the fire has already reached $6.4 million and is expected to climb to $8 million, officials said.

Since Sunday, firefighters and equipment no longer needed in the Marple fire have been sent to fight the blaze near Wrightwood, said Patti Krueger, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service.


At the Marple fire “they had already started a demobilization plan,” Krueger said. “There were a lot of resources they no longer needed.”

The fire broke out shortly after 1 p.m. Sunday near Lupine Campground, about two miles southwest of Wrightwood, Krueger said. Campers in Lupine and three other campgrounds were evacuated.

No serious injuries or deaths resulted from the blaze and no homes have been damaged. Three firefighters suffered minor injuries.

“The town of Wrightwood is still [threatened], along with wilderness areas,” Krueger said. The cause of the fire was under investigation.

The outlook for more destructive fires is grim, fire authorities said. Dry vegetation, combined with low humidity and high temperatures “makes for the perfect conditions to have a wild land fire,” Graham said.

Add the usual Santa Ana winds later in the season, and “you end up having a fire that’s much more difficult to control,” he said.


“It’s been like that since early on in the season,” he said. “May was when we started having fires which indicated we were going to have an early fire season.”

Graham said residents can prepare themselves by clearing any flammable vegetation away from their homes.

“That could be anywhere from from 30 feet to 200 feet depending on where you live,” the landscaping and the position of the home, he said.

Last week Los Angeles County Fire Chief Michael P. Freeman announced his decision to bring in the Super Scooper firefighting airplanes sooner than originally planned. The planes originally were to be delivered from Canada in October, but that date was moved up because of the ominous beginning of the fire season.

The Super Scoopers, which dump huge quantities of water from the air, are expected to be available for use by Friday.