CASTAIC FIRE SCORCHES 10,000 ACRES.
A brush fire believed set by a teen-ager roared through the hills of Castaic on Monday, devouring more than 10,000 acres along the Golden State Freeway, shutting down the state's vital north-south route and forcing more than 100 people from their homes.
The blaze, which burned a few outbuildings, an unoccupied mobile home and some vehicles parked in a construction yard just off Interstate 5, continued to rage into the night. County fire officials said they could not predict when it might let up.
A 15-year-old boy suspected of setting the fire was arrested after a California Highway Patrol officer spotted him walking on the side of the freeway, just after the fire started around 12:30 p.m.
``He admitted starting the fire,'' said Deputy Angie Prewett, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
The boy, a San Fernando resident whose name was withheld, was booked on suspicion of arson and was being held in the Sylmar Juvenile Detention Facility, Prewett said.
A 10-mile trail of trucks and cars heading out of the Los Angeles area crawled off the Golden State Freeway in Castaic after the closure. Motorists trapped in the traffic jam in the afternoon's sweltering heat used freeway call boxes to plead for drinking water.
``It's awful, it's horrible,'' said bus driver Gary Glenn, en route to Frazier Park with a busload of young campers from San Diego. ``They told us it could be hours before it reopens, and these kids are hot, they're hungry, they're surly.''
However, officers began escorting some southbound traffic on the Golden State Freeway through the Grapevine area about 7 p.m. Monday. An hour and a half later, officers began escorting northbound traffic.
The fire started just east of the interstate and north of Castaic Lake. Five acres were burning when firefighters arrived, but within four hours, more than 3,500 acres had been consumed, Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Steve Valenzuela said.
Brush dried to tinder by a summer of 100-plus-degree weather, fed the fire as gusty winds fanned flames in three directions, Valenzuela said. Spewing embers started dozens of spot fires including one that burned about 20 acres near Castaic Lake, he said.
At one point, the fire was moving toward Pyramid Lake in the Angeles National Forest, but by late evening, it had shifted direction and was headed into uninhabited wilderness, having burned more than 8,000 acres. Officials were prepared to evacuate campgrounds and fishing, swimming and boating areas as needed.
A Los Angeles Sheriff's Department spokeswoman said one building was destroyed but could not say what type of structure it was.
From the start, flames licked close to the freeway, forcing the closure of all lanes from Parker Road to state Highway 138. Some cars trapped inside the closed area had to be escorted out, said CHP spokesman Officer Richard Perez.
About 2:30 p.m., residents of the 94-home Paradise Ranch mobile-home park were ordered to leave, fleeing their homes in the shadow of a huge plume of smoke seen for more than 50 miles.
``It's getting close. We've just been told to evacuate,'' said park manager Dee Schomer, who answered the phone at the remote location. ``I'm gathering my pictures, I'm getting my two birds.''
Workers at an equestrian center adjoining the 94-home park were loading frightened horses into trailers, watering them for protection and calming the animals as they prepared to caravan through the heavy smoke to ensure their safety.
More than 800 firefighters from the county and the U.S. Forest Service were called to fight the blaze and were aided by five helicopters and four fixed-wing aircraft.
The number of water-dropping aircraft was less than what was needed but all that was available, because firefighting aircraft from the region have been dispatched to other blazes statewide, Valenzuela said.
``For a fire spreading this quickly, it would be better to have more aircraft,'' Valenzuela said. ``It's very scary. It's moving fast. A lot of it's inaccessible. It's covering such a large area and moving erratically.''
Canadian SuperScooper aircraft are not due to arrive in the area until October and the Santa Ana wind season, he said.
One firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion. Several outbuildings had been burned by the late evening and TV footage showed the blackened remains of some vehicles and perhaps a bulldozer off the road in the sparsely populated hills.
For trucker Noel McGill, the delay threatened his ability to make the next payment on his new Peterbilt. About 1 p.m., McGill was weighing options. Sticking it out meant missing a crucial deadline to deliver advertising inserts for a chain of newspapers.
``If I get there past their deadline, they don't want 'em,'' he said.
The freeway closure left Castaic's row of truck-stop cafes and fast-food restaurants jammed.
``We're real busy,'' said Roseann Duke, manager of a McDonald's restaurant on Lake Hughes Road in downtown Castaic. ``Most of the people aren't eating though; they're getting drinks and ice. A lot of them are just stopping for change to make phones calls or to get directions on how to get out of here.''
Hughes said she advised her northbound customers to head across the Santa Clarita Valley, drive north northeast to the Antelope Valley then return to the Golden State Freeway on state Highway 138, north of the fire.
``It's better to go two hours out of your way then to wait for six hours. That's what they're saying now. Six hours,'' she said.
Tommy Helms and David Martella from Cleveland, Tenn., were heading north having dropped off a load of carpet in Van Nuys. Their rig empty, they could afford to kill some time.
``This gives us a break,'' Helms said.
``We're gonna get something to eat,'' his partner added.
PHOTO (1 -- color) A helicopter makes an aerial drop asL.A. County and U.S. Forest Service firefighters below set backfires.
(2) County and Forest Service firefighters keep ahead of the blaze.
Gene Blevins/Special to the Daily News
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Aug 27, 1996|
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