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Acton begins its recovery

Station Fire claims two lives and burns 140,150 acres; flames keep Aliso Canyon Road in Acton closed

Posted: September 2, 2009 8:39 p.m.
Updated: September 2, 2009 9:46 p.m.

A sign sits on the side of Crown Valley Road in Acton thanking the firefighters for their efforts.

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ACTON — Scott Handley flipped a burger on his grill and slapped a slice of cheese on the patty, then surveyed his fire-desolated property along Aliso Canyon Road.

“It’s the only hot food I can make, since there is no electricity or gas,” he said.

The Station Fire roared through Aliso Canyon on Saturday, blackening brush and destroying cars, boats and three homes. It spared Handley’s stone house.

Since it began a week ago, the blaze has charred 140,150-acres, swallowed 92 buildings between La Canada-Flintridge and Acton, killed two Los Angeles County firefighters and caused widespread evacuations.

Aliso Canyon Road remained closed on Wednesday for safety precautions, said Inspector Frederick Stowers of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

As of Wednesday night, the Station Fire was 22-percent contained. Fire officials expected the fire to be contained by Sept. 15.

The canyon’s blackened landscape, littered with charred twigs and wreckage, reflected the devastation that swept through the area Saturday night.

At Montgomery Ranch, the ranch vineyard caretaker’s home burned down, said Scott Short, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department resident deputy for Acton.

“The caretaker evacuated, and when he got word (it was destroyed), he was in tears,” Short said.

The main house at the ranch and many of the grapes survived the blaze, but the intense heat from the flames burned outdoor structures and melted a fiberglass boat.

As the fire quickly approached Saturday night, Handley, a professional bear trainer, prepared to flee. But he and his neighbor, animal trainer Hayden Rosenaur, first had to get their animals to safety.

Handley moved his bears to a safe location. They returned and moved Rosenaur’s elephants and deer. The neighbors made their final trip back to their homes to clear their property of anything that would catch fire and the two ran out of time.

“By the time we saved the animals and saved the house, we didn’t have time to get ourselves out,” Handley said.

They were trapped in the canyon as flames surrounded them. A group of firefighters became stuck in the canyon with them as the flames closed in.

“When you looked out of the window it looked like a sea of flames,” he said. “It looked like we were underwater, but instead of water, it was all flames.”

Both Handley and Rosenaur have homes constructed almost entirely of stone.

“I worked closely with the fire department in building my house,” he said.

Handley and Rosenaur’s homes were buttoned-up tight with fire-resistant vents, double-paned windows and other safeguards. And the fact it was built using stone makes it unlikely to burn to the ground, said Jeremy Henderson of CalFire.

“If all the homes were built like this, we would have nothing to worry about,” he said.

Henderson and CalFire Capt. Jim Thomas were in the canyon with Rosenaur and Handley on Saturday night.

“All you could see from ridge to ridge was flame,” Thomas said.

According to CalFire officials, flames more than 100-feet tall swept through the area, scorching everything in their path. The firefighters parked behind Rosenaur’s home and used the stone house and their truck as a barrier against the fire, Handley said.

When the firestorm passed, firefighter emerged from the truck to put out the spot fires.   

The Station Fire turned Handley’s property into a smoldering, lifeless landscape.

“I’ll get some dumpsters and a dozer and clean all the branches and debris because it’s depressing looking at this,” he said.

“Hopefully by spring things will start growing back.”



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