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Station Fire update: 2 Acton homes burn

Blaze scorches 105,000+ acres, spares most of Acton, threatens Mt. Wilson

Posted: August 31, 2009 8:38 p.m.
Updated: August 31, 2009 10:00 p.m.

This image of the Station Fire was acquired mid-morning Aug. 30 by NASA's Terra satellite. The approximate perspective view is at an angle of 46 degrees off of vertical. The area covered is 152 miles wide. Several pyrocumulus clouds, created by the fire, are visible above the smoke plumes rising from the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angele...

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The swath of destruction caused by the Station Fire widened to more than 164 square miles Monday, destroying two Acton homes before moving north toward the Antelope Valley.

"We watched a wall of flames about 3 miles wide burn through three canyons in 10 minutes," said David Stewart, 53, of Acton, who had a front-row seat for Sunday night's havoc. "All I could hear was this big roar of the fire and things exploding."

The flames towered above Acton, surging to a height of more than 100 feet as the fire sprinted toward Stewart's home, he said.

At that point, Stewart and two coworkers at the Acton Clay Quarry decided it was time to leave.

However, the keys to their truck were locked inside the vehicle.

"We had to break the driver's-side window so we could get out of there," said Mike Herron, 53 of Acton.

The workers escaped without harm, and so did Stewart's home, they discovered upon their return Monday.

2 firefighters killed
The Station Fire, which erupted last Wednesday in the foothills behind La Canada Flintridge, destroyed 21 homes and threatened another 12,000. Smoke, flames and destruction stretched from La Canada Flintridge to Acton.

The fire also claimed the lives of Los Angeles County Fire Department Specialist Arnaldo Quinones of Palmdale and Capt. Tedmund Hall of San Bernardino County, Los Angeles County fire officials said.

The firefighters were killed trying to protect a county fire camp near Mt. Gleason. The truck carrying Hall and Quinones went over the side of a road and plummeted 800 feet, said Capt, Mike Brown of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

The incident is still under investigation, Brown said.

The fire doubled in sized Sunday night and early Monday, growing from a 42,000-acre fire to more than 105,000 acres. As of 6:15 p.m., the fire was 5 percent contained, according to fire officials.

Charred landscape
When Stewart, Herron and Lalonde returned to the scene of the fire Monday, they surveyed the charred landscape from a vantage point on the train tracks running across Crown Valley Road in Acton.

Stewart said he was happy that many of the homes in Acton were spared. Where the three men had seen an inferno on Sunday night, white smoke was rising from burnt ground on Monday.

"It's liberating," Stewart said. "The fire looks like it burned itself out."

The Station Fire destroyed at least two homes in Acton, according to fire officials.

Stewart said the fire's quick advance Sunday night marked his closest encounter with wildfire.

"I think this is the closest anyone has seen fire come to Acton," he said. "I've been here 10 years, but nobody I know can remembers it coming this close."

Fire crews spent Monday in mop-up mode, clearing brush and putting the finishing touches on an 8-mile fire break from Bootleg Canyon Road to Aliso Canyon Road in Acton, said Don Damann, heavy equipment operator for Los Angeles County fire.

Warren Hubbard of the El Dorado County Fire Department said the work Monday was much calmer and cooler than Sunday night's heated battle with the fire along Aliso Canyon Road.

"The fire created a vacuum and drew in 40 mph winds," he said. "Those winds created a huge plume of fire more than 100 feet tall."

The menacing flames advanced toward homes along Aliso Canyon Road, a few miles east of the Highway 14 freeway, engulfing two homes, Hubbard said.

He and his crew were able to save one home by acting quickly.

"We saw the fire bumping up against the back of the house," Hubbard said.

He and his crew made a stand with hoses and warded off the fire with only minimal damage to the home, Hubbard said.

Refusing to leave
Some Acton residents remained resilient in the face of the Station Fire. Elizabeth Billet said she and her husband, Ray, were staying put at Blum Ranch.

The couple cultivate about 60 of the roughly 100-year-old ranch's 160 acres, producing peaches, plums, pears, lilacs and honey.

"We don't like the smoke that we're seeing," Elizabeth said early Monday afternoon, and added the fire was about a mile away Sunday.

The couple, who live in a 95-year-old stone and timber house, had no plans to leave. Elizabeth, 74, said Ray, 75, can assist firefighters by providing water.

The farm is in the midst of harvesting peaches, but Elizabeth said: "Everything's kind of on hold right now."

This is not the Billets' first run-in with a fire. Several years ago a brush fire tore through the orchard.

"We didn't leave before," she said, "and we don't plan to this time."

Shawn Holt, 36, of Acton, didn't need a stern warning to make him pack up his things and leave Thousand Trails recreational-vehicle park in Acton.

"When the sky turned orange and black on Saturday afternoon, I got concerned," he said.

Los Angeles County sheriff's told residents there was a voluntary evacuation order, and Holt said that was enough to make him leave.

Holt watched the flames and the smoke from his recreational vehicle for two days. By Monday the sky began to clear, giving him hope the firefighters were winning the battle.

"It looks better today than it has been," he said. "You see the smoke but you don't see the flames of the fire anymore."

Shambala Preserve spared
An animal sanctuary called the Roar Foundation Shambala Preserve, six miles east of Acton, was in the mandatory evacuation zone, but fire officials decided removing the animals would be "a logistical nightmare," said Chris Gallucci, vice president of operations.

Directed by actress Tippi Hedren - likely best known for her role in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" - the preserve is home to around 70 lions, tigers, bobcats and panthers.

"We have 64 big cats, leopards, lions, tigers, cougars. ... The animals are just walking around, not being affected by this at all," Gallucci said.

"But if we panic, they panic. But we are not in panic mode yet."

Twin flanks
The Station Fire was burning on two separate flanks Monday, advancing north toward the Antelope Valley while at the same time burning east toward Mount Wilson.

Fire crews set back fires and doused Mount Wilson with fire retardant to protect the peak, which is home to at least 20 television station transmission towers, radio and cell phone antennas and an observatory.

If the flames overrun Mount Wilson, television and radio transmissions could be interrupted, but to what extent remains unclear.

Senior Staff Writer Josh Premako and the Associated Press contributed to this report.



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