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BLAZE BATTLED FROM WITHIN FIREFIGHTERS HOPING TO CONTAIN FLAMES.

Byline: PATRICIA FARRELL AIDEM Staff writer

LOS PADRES NATIONAL FOREST -- Taking advantage of cooler weather, hundreds of ``hotshot'' firefighters descended Thursday deep into Ventura County's wilderness. There they will combat the immense Day Fire in hopes of beating it before winds kick up this weekend.

The highly skilled crews, helicoptered into this rugged land within the Los Padres National Forest, eat and sleep when they can, then will rotate with others after a few days, said fire Capt. Glenn Skaggs of the neighboring Angeles National Forest where the fire has spread.

It marks the first time since this fire ignited 11 days ago on Labor Day that firefighters have battled it from the inside, Skaggs said. The fire is about 10 miles northwest of Castaic.

Terrain is so daunting and winds erratic that crews had tried working the perimeter of the 30,639-acre blaze, avoiding bulldozing and other measures that would harm the wilderness. But flames quickly spread, fueled by high heat and extremely low humidity. Aggressive moves were ordered when the fire threatened to jump Interstate 5 toward a mobile home park, and to spread toward homes in Castaic, Piru and Fillmore.

Thursday afternoon, the fire was but 30 percent contained. Until it's fully contained -- a complete line around it -- sections of the Angeles forest, including the Pyramid Lake recreation area, the Hungry Valley off-road vehicle park and a sliver of forest east of the I-5 and north of Castaic will remain closed, forest spokeswoman Sherry Rollman said.

``We want to make sure nobody's in there if the fire's direction changes,'' Rollman said. ``It's been very unpredictable but we're blessed today. It's overcast and that's definitely helped.''

The cooler weather, with its 60 percent humidity Wednesday night, caused firefighters to cancel planned backfires -- controlled burns that eat up brush and create breaks to stop the wildfire from advancing, Skaggs said.

``The big plan last night was to burn along the (bull)dozer lines,'' he said. ``The weather changed and consequently we couldn't burn, but the fire was reduced so we started inserting hotshot crews.''

On Saturday, the dreaded hot and dry Santa Ana winds are due. The goal is to tackle the fire as much as possible to avoid huge flare-ups.

``There's a big push to get the crews in,'' he said. ``The big push is the next 48 hours.''

Fifty-one 20-member crews were being taken into the forest by helicopter, 10 to 12 hotshots at a time. They carry rations and bedding, and more food will be delivered by air.

While this fire, burning an area more than 40 square miles, has been fueled, doused and possibly whipped up again by weather, Mother Nature hinted Thursday at still more bad news in the coming months.

El Nino conditions, which typically mean heavy rain in Southern California, are brewing, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center in Maryland.

El Nino is a warming of the water in the tropical Pacific that is associated with worldwide weather extremes.

``So they'll be talking mudslides,'' Skaggs said. ``But the really big impact here will be the flow of debris. That'll be another story.''

pat.aidem(at)dailynews.com

(661) 257-5251

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

(ran in Valley edition only) Firefighters who worked on the Day Fire the night before catch up on sleep at the Lake Hughes fire camp near Castaic. The fire slowed to a crawl as humidity rose and temperatures fell.

Casey Christine/The Bakersfield Californian
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 15, 2006
Words:580
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