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Firefighters begin training burn

Fire Department says light smoke and helicopters over Castaic are controlled, nothing to worry about

Posted: June 15, 2009 10:34 p.m.
Updated: June 16, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Los Angeles County firefighters began a series of controlled burns Monday near the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic as part of a training exercise, a fire department spokeswoman said.

The fires will also burn light grass in the hills near the jail today and Wednesday, sending some light smoke into the air, said spokeswoman Stephanie English.

About 100 firefighters will participate in each day's exercise, in which they will burn 5 acres of light grass. A helicopter will be stationed nearby as a precaution.

Firefighters had to end Monday's training early because the winds picked up and threatened to spread the fire too quickly, officials said.

Last month, dry heat and strong winds whipped a similar training blaze in Castaic out of control. It charred more than 25 acres before firefighters were able to douse it.

"Right about this time before fire season, we try to get the firefighters out there to do some drills," English said.

In the exercises, firefighters use flares to set small fires in the dry, grassy hills surrounding the detention center. Firefighters in pump trucks battle the blazes along with crews of inmate workers.

The exercise comes close to simulating a real wildfire, said Los Angeles Fire Capt. Mike McCormick, who participated in Monday's training.

The fire department usually runs one or two exercises like this in the Santa Clarita Valley area each year. Often, they take place around the Pitchess Detention Center, which houses county fire training facilities and fire camps.

Though fires can erupt year-round in the dry and brushy Santa Clarita Valley, the worst tend to occur from the end of September through the end of November.

Last year, massive blazes broke out on the northern edge of the San Fernando Valley and crept into the Newhall Pass, destroying hundreds of homes.

The threat of fires this year has led to one of the quietest July 4 celebrations the Santa Clarita Valley has seen in years, with Stevenson Ranch cancelling its fireworks celebration amid dry-weather concerns.

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