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HILLSIDES BLAZE FIRE SCORCHES BRUSH, THREATENS PINES.

Byline: Bhavna Mistry Staff Writer

CASTAIC - A fast-moving fire scorched 50 acres of brush Monday and threatened a pine tree plantation along Lake Hughes Road near Castaic Lake.

More than 100 Los Angeles County firefighters, about 100 inmate crews and two U.S. Forest Service helicopters contained the blaze within an hour, officials said. No one was injured and no structures were damaged.

A tractor cutting weeds near the road about 1 p.m., just east of Ridge Route Road, may have sparked the blaze that traveled along the hills, officials said. The cause is under investigation.

``When we first got here it was making a run,'' said Los Angeles County Firefighter Dave Schmidt, one of the first to arrive. ``We didn't even look for a point of origin. We kept moving forward to get in front of it.''

Water-dropping helicopters didn't have to travel far to pick up loads of water from Castaic Lake, helping to extinguish the blaze and save a Los Angeles County pine tree plantation, where flames licked just a few feet away.

The cultivation was planted in the 1970s when Castaic Lake was formed to reduce hilltop runoff into the man-made water body.

``They were planted to increase the water quality,'' said Deputy Forester Frank Vidales of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. ``When you have trees, it stops the mud from going into the dam. It's good we didn't lose the plantation.''

A church about a mile from the torched hillside was evacuated, but it also was saved.

``We were blessed because sometimes it really gets gusty up here,'' said Jeff Noe, associate pastor of Lake Hills Community Church. ``We were fortunate. It stayed a mile away.

``We're in a vulnerable spot,'' Noe said. ``Every summer there's a fire visible from here.''

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) A water-dropping helicopter douses a brush fire burning along a hillside above Lake Castaic on Monday afternoon.

(2 -- color) A firefighting helicopter heads toward the brush fire after picking up a load of water from Lake Castaic on Monday. A tractor apparently sparked the fire.

David Sprague/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 2, 2002
Words:354
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