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Burning car ignites grass fire

Traffic backs up on Interstate 5 as officials close lanes

Posted: August 28, 2008 9:25 p.m.
Updated: October 30, 2008 5:01 a.m.

A tow truck removes a burned car that caused the fire on southbound Interstate 5 on Thursday afternoon.

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A burning Volvo ignited a five-acre grass fire along Interstate 5 north of Lake Hughes Road at 11:23 a.m. Thursday morning, forcing closure of two southbound lanes and snarling traffic for nearly 90 minutes.

Los Angeles County Fire Department scrambled five fire engines and provided helicopters for a water drop to douse the flames. Firefighters from the United States Forest Service and California Highway Patrol officers assisted and the fire was extinguished by 12:06 p.m., said Luke Claus, L.A. County Assistant Fire Chief.

Patty Harrison said she was driving the ill-fated 2001 Volvo S80 from Lodi to Orange County to visit friends and attend the Christian-based Southern California Renewal Communities Convention. She heard a pop from the engine and immediately pulled over. Smoke billowed from under the hood as she called 911 from the roadside.

“My biggest fear was my safety and that the hill would catch on fire,” Harrison said.

The hill did catch on fire and more than 150 emergency personnel answered the call. Fire crews were en route to douse the vehicle fire before the grass fire sparked, said County Fire Inspector Sam Padilla.

Getting to the fire was half the battle as fire engines coming from points south raced up the northbound lanes and cut across a CHP turnaround to get to the southbound side of the I-5 in time to stop the fire, Claus said.

CHP officers closed down two of the four southbound lanes. Traffic bottlenecked a half mile north of the incident.

A water drop and the firefighters on the ground quickly put out the blaze and cleanup operations were underway shortly after noon. The midday sun and heat beat down on crews as they continued to soak the area, dig up smoldering roots and hack brush to make sure the fire didn’t reignite, Claus said.

“Historically fires are common in this area,” Claus said. The combination of dry brush and sparks from brake pads, or metal grinding on large trucks, is a recipe for roadside fires, he said.

Firefighters finished cleaning up at approximately 2 p.m. and a standby fire crew continued to monitor the area until 2:30 p.m., Inspector Frank Garrido said.

The lane closures were lifted at 12:55 p.m., according to CHP Sgt. Ben Dibene.

Harrison didn’t look shaken up as she watched the charred remains of her car hauled away. She said she was just happy to be alive.

“It was covered by prayer — everything was in place for me to get through this,” she said.

Two other fires broke out later in the day and both were extiguished quickly, said Capt. Mike Brown.

A spot fire broke out alongside I-5 north of the intersection with Highway 126 at approximately 5:19 p.m. A second spot fire sparked along Highway 14 at approximately 5:53 p.m. and was knocked down at 6:03 p.m., Brown said.

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