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California Firefighters Control All But One Brushfire

October 18, 1985

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Firefighters declared victory over all but one of the brushfires that have burned more than 100,000 acres in Southern California, but that was scant consolation to those still clawing away at a stubborn backcountry blaze in Ventura County.

That fire, called the Ferndale-Wheeler Canyon blaze, had worked its way deep into Los Padres National Forest 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles, and was expected to resist firefighting efforts until Sunday.

Much of the battle was being carried out by hand, as rugged terrain and poor flying conditions deprived firefighters of the aid of bulldozers and air tankers.

″On the north and east sides of the fire, they’re having to do it all by hand,″ Carl Summerfield, fire information officer for the forest, said of the 1,900 firefighters who had cut a ring around 40 percent of the blaze. ″It’s steep slopes and rocks and bluffs in there.″

An estimated 42,530 acres of brush had been burned by the Ferndale-Wheeler fire, which had swept within one-quarter mile of the Sespe Wildlife Refuge, and 10 houses were lost in the early stages Monday night.

Early containment was predicted for another Ventura County fire, this one in Tapo Canyon, 35 miles northwest of Los Angeles. The blaze was 98 percent contained after burning more than 16,000 acres, said county fire dispatcher LaVerne Atkinson.

A fire near Mount Gleason in the Angeles National Forest, 25 miles north of Los Angeles, was all but contained at 8 p.m. Thursday after burning over 1,200 acres. ″We’ve sent at least half of the firefighters home already,″ said National Forest spokesman Bruce Bundick.

Elsewhere, firefighters declared two huge Malibu-area blazes contained at 8 a.m. Thursday.

The Piuma and Decker fires had scorched a swath from the canyons to the sea, burning a total of 80,000 acres of brush in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, and causing an estimated $1.4 million in property damage.

Los Angeles fire Inspector Pat Bradshaw said the losses included a Bentley automobile valued at $100,000 and a mock South American town built as a set for the ″A Team″ television series.

The overall toll from the dozens of Southern California fires that began Monday included over 100,000 acres of brush burned, 23 homes destroyed and the death of a man who suffered a fatal heart attack Monday fighting a fire that threatened his home. Many firefighters reported minor injuries.

Firefighters began to win their battles early Wednesday when fierce Santa Ana winds eased, and cooler, moist air began to flow in from the ocean. The Santa Ana winds, blasting in from the desert at speeds of over 50 mph, dried brush and drove the flames too fast for firefighters to keep ahead.

Bradshaw credited good planning with keeping property losses relatively low considering the acreage burned. Advance planning enabled crews to protect neighborhoods before the flames reached them, he said.

″A number of times, the fire was threatening homes and the strike teams held it off,″ Bradshaw said. ″It was really quite impressive.″

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