California Wildfires Smolder in Low Wind

September 28, 2009

All but the most remote sections of a pair of major Southern California wildfires were contained Saturday, but officials warned that dangerous fire weather would persist through the weekend.

The region saw record triple-digit temperatures on Saturday but none of the Santa Ana winds that drove fires earlier in the week, allowing firefighters in Ventura County to reach 97 percent containment on the 27-square-mile blaze there.

County Fire spokesman Bill Nash said crews hope to have the fire near Moorpark fully surrounded sometime Sunday. No homes have been lost.

Nash says Santa Ana winds were no longer a factor. But hot, dry weather spurred the National Weather Service to extend a red flag warning of dangerous fire conditions through Sunday night at 9 p.m.

The fire began Tuesday and burned through rugged land interspersed with orchards, farms and ranches. Firefighting costs have topped $6 million.

As another much larger forest fire continued to smolder northeast of Los Angeles, U.S. Forest Service officials said they underestimated the wildfire’s threat and scaled back firefighting efforts the night before the blaze ran wild, according to a report published Saturday.

Angeles National Forest Fire Chief David Conklin told the Los Angeles Times in a story on its Web site that officials were confident the so-called Station Fire had been “fairly well contained” after its first day on Aug. 26, ordered the number of water-dropping helicopters reduced from five to three and prepared to send fewer firefighters on the ground.

During the night, Conklin’s staff realized the magnitude of the fire’s threat and ordered more aircraft and firefighters.

“We felt we had sufficient resources,” Conklin said. “There’s always that lesson. We’ll always have that in the back of our minds.”

The county fire department allowed the Forest Service to use one heli-tanker on the fire’s second day, but denied the use of a second.

Chief Deputy John Tripp, the county’s No. 2 fire official, said he would have released the second helicopter if there was an immediate threat to the community of La Canada Flintridge where the fire started.

Officials from both agencies told the Times they would plan to set up a joint command more quickly when a fire breaks out in lower areas of the 1,000-square-mile forest.

The 251-square mile blaze officially remained 98 percent contained. It destroyed 89 homes and led to the deaths of two firefighters.

Officials have said they would hold off until the next rain before calling it fully contained.

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