Arcadia Fire Quelled, but Risks Still High


Though more than 800 firefighters remained stationed around her Arcadia neighborhood Wednesday, Nancy Simons turned her attention to putting her house back together.

The blaze, which forced the evacuation of 260 homes nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, has not burned a single structure, but it gave many residents a scare.

“I’m checking out a Smoke Eater,” Simons said. “It’s supposed to rid your house of the smell of smoke.”


The Canyon Road resident said she had seen the $600 device advertised at the Arcadia Community Center, where many evacuees bedded down on cots Monday night, and decided to give it a try.

U.S. Forest Service spokesman Alberto Ortega said firefighters expected to have the blaze fully contained by noon today. The fire has blackened about 750 acres and was 80% contained by late Wednesday afternoon.

The fire, which authorities said was caused by arson or negligence, began in woods and had raged across the hills just north of homes in Arcadia and Sierra Madre since Monday afternoon.

More than 1,000 Southern California firefighters, along with five helicopters and four air tankers, were deployed at the height of the battle. By Wednesday, only two helicopters were being used.

Firefighters were hindered at first by hot, dry winds and extremely steep terrain. With calmer conditions and wind speeds of less than 10 mph expected to continue until Friday, many firefighters Wednesday were sent back to their stations in Ventura, Orange and Los Angeles counties.

But Forest Service officials cautioned that the fire danger in Southern California is far from over.


“It’s very dangerous,” said Randi Jorgensen. “There is a strong potential to burn.”

Less than half an inch of rain has fallen on Los Angeles since July, far below the normal level of 4.1 inches, meaning that brushland near residential areas “is a concern,” said Ortega.

There is little chance of rain in the forecast for at least the next three days, said Guy Pearson, a meteorologist for WeatherData Inc., which provides forecasts for The Times.

Fire officials are suspicious about the cause of the Arcadia fire because there had been smaller fires in the same location in the past week, and nothing about the location would naturally lend itself to the start of a blaze, said Mark Whaling of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Ortega added that fire officials are worried that New Year’s Eve revelers may inadvertently spark more blazes with fireworks.

Some firefighters, such as Capt. Mark Taillon of the Ventura County Fire Department, complained that brush had not been cleared away from some houses in Arcadia as much as he would have recommended. However, Arcadia city officials and many residents said that they are scrupulous about clearing hillside brush.

Each year, Arcadia fire officials visit every house at the edge of the forest and inspect the property, making sure that brush is not too high or too close to roads or houses, said Beth Stogner, public information officer for the Arcadia Fire Department.


Residents who have not cut their brush back receive a series of stern letters, followed by a visit from a worker who removes the brush, Stogner said. The city then imposes a fee on the property owner.

“We’re pretty conscientious,” said June Fee, who has lived on Canyon Road since the 1960s. She and her husband years ago dug up 100 feet of brush on all sides of their house, planted ice plants and installed sprinklers, which spray the area twice a day. “We feel it’s to our own benefit,” she said.

By Wednesday morning, three inmates injured as they worked with fire crews had been released from hospitals. A firefighter sustained a minor injury Wednesday afternoon.

Fire officials were optimistic about the fate of the deer, bears, coyotes, foxes, opossums, skunks and mice that might have made their homes in the now-charred area.

“Very few animals die as a result of a fire,” said Patti Krueger, wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service. “The large animals run away from the fire. The small animals dig down, and as long as they get at least 3 inches down, they will survive.”

Fire ultimately is beneficial for the animals, Krueger added, because grass, leaves, seeds and wildflowers are more plentiful and palatable after a fire. But small animals face one increased risk when they lose their cover from chaparral and trees, she said: “What happens is, they come out of the ground and raptors come and eat them.”