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CASTAIC WILDFIRE FRUSTRATES CREWS : BRUSH, HEAT, WINDS SPUR BLAZE'S PATH INTO FOREST.

Byline: Laurence Darmiento Daily News Staff Writer

The combination of tinder-dry, heavy brush, 100-degree heat and unpredictable winds thwarted firefighters' best efforts Tuesday to control a wildfire that had consumed more than 15,000 acres north of Castaic Lake.

The fire, believed set Monday afternoon by a teen-ager north of Castaic off the Golden State Freeway, burned furiously in spots as it headed into the Angeles National Forest - frustrating firefighters.

Late in the evening, flames overran four county fire vehicles that had carried crews up to the fire line, but no crew members were injured, officials said.

The blaze also turned toward a sparsely populated rural area called Hobby Horse Ranch, causing some residents to evacuate livestock and head for safety, said Randi Jorgensen, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service.

``It's very erratic. It's not in any one direction,'' said Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Steve Valenzuela. ``It's moving toward the east, but it's also moving toward the west. It's a tough one.''

The fire, which shut down the freeway until Monday evening, remained just 20 percent contained Tuesday, even as some 750 firefighters from more than a half-dozen agencies battled the flames.

With the fire moving into wilderness areas of the 750,000-acre federal forest, its leading edge remained largely inaccessible leaving most of the work to water-dropping helicopters and fixed-wing air tankers.

Firefighters said they also were hampered by dense underbrush which had not burned since a 1968 fire that consumed 55,000 acres.

``We worked on it all night long, yet since 5 p.m. Monday it's doubled in size,'' said Los Angeles County Fire Battalion Chief Bob Lee.

A 15-year-old boy from San Fernando was arrested Monday by the California Highway Patrol shortly after the fire broke out in a canyon separating the northbound and southbound lanes of the freeway near Lake Hughes Road.

The teen, believed to be a runaway, was seen walking along the freeway in an area known to be frequented by transients. He admitted to setting the blaze, and is being held in Sylmar Juvenile Hall, officials said.

Investigators plan to present their case against the youth to prosecutors today, said Deputy District Attorney Laura Foland-Priver.

U.S. Forest Service ``Hot Shot'' crews, who battle wildfires nationwide on federal lands, began arriving at the forest Tuesday.

Polo Rodriguez, foreman for the ``Sierra Hot Shot'' crew that has fought 23 fires across the West since June, said he was impressed by the flames he saw leaping from the brush.

``This is a pretty good one,'' said Rodriguez, whose crew is based near Fresno. ``But if it dies down at night, we'll be able to pinch it off.''

Firefighters had not yet assessed the cost of battling the blaze, but said such a large operation could run well over $100,000 daily.

The fire is the largest in Los Angeles County since the 1993 Malibu fire that burned more than 17,000 acres as well as 323 homes.

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Photo

Photo: Smoke billows up from a brush fire Tuesday which has burned through Castaic and has reached the Angeles National Forest.

Gene Blevins/Special to the Daily News
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 28, 1996
Words:526
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