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BRUSH FIRES MAR JULY 4.

Byline: Greg Botonis Staff Writer

PALMDALE - Firefighters throughout the Antelope Valley were recovering Saturday from one of the busiest holidays they have had in years, officials said.

Illegal fireworks were blamed for dozens of fires that kept firefighters busy well into the early-morning hours Saturday. One fire forced the evacuation of a Palmdale neighborhood.

``I went up onto the freeway, and, honestly, I have never seen a city light up like that,'' said Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Jerry Meehan. ``The whole city of Palmdale was just lit up with fireworks.''

Firefighters were called out to the neighborhood behind Highland High School about 9:45 p.m. Friday, and, on their arrival, they were greeted with flames dangerously close to several homes.

More than a half-dozen families had already been evacuated by the sheriff's deputies, but other residents stayed behind, using garden hoses to keep the fire from reaching their homes.

A bulldozer was used to cut a fire line behind the homes. This aided firefighters in the battle, and the five-acre blaze was contained within minutes.

In just over 30 minutes, the blaze was extinguished, and residents were allowed to return to their homes. Nearly 100 personnel assisted in fighting the blaze, and firefighters say the only property damage was a burned wooden fence.

Minutes later, firefighters were called back to the same neighborhood when fires broke out in the Highland High School campus and in a field directly across from that field. Each of the fires was believed to have been caused by illegal fireworks.

``That whole area got peppered with fires,'' Meehan said. ``Most of the fires were caused by stuff going into the air, bottle rockets and such.''

People awaiting the start of Palmdale High School's fireworks display were holding their own display with illegal fireworks, and, as a result, a field at Avenue R, west of 25th Street East, directly across from the school caught fire.

Fire crews had the blaze out in just a few minutes, and no one was injured.

A fire earlier in the day scorched about 20 acres near 47th Street East and Pearblossom Highway, where a bottle rocket ignited dry brush.

The field was engulfed in flames, and the strong winds helped push the fire.

The call came in to the fire station about 2 p.m., and more than 100 firefighters were needed to completely extinguish the blaze. Utility poles burned and fell, igniting a field just across the street. The fire was out in under an hour, and there were no injuries.

Other smaller incidents occurred throughout the night, officials said.

By Saturday, expectations of strong winds and residents with leftover illegal fireworks prompted officials to change the alert level to red. Additional units will be brought in as a precaution for the next few days.

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Residents with garden hoses fight a July 4 fire on the hillside behind their homes near Highland High School.

(2 -- color) The fire scorches four acres behind Highland High School. No homes were damaged.

Paul Weatherman/Special to the Daily News
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 6, 2003
Words:517
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