Wednesday, October 22, 2008

'near miss'

Between Hunter's Ridge and Sheridan Estates.

By Guy McCarthy

FONTANA - Somebody set off fireworks in gusting Santa Ana winds early Wednesday, igniting a 250-acre wildfire that burned from north Fontana into Rancho Cucamonga, forced some foothill homeowners to evacuate, and closed two schools, fire officials said.

Blasting winds also played a role in a second fire that broke out before noon and burned about two acres in a south Fontana industrial area off Mulberry Avenue.

A red flag warning for gusting winds and heightened fire danger remains in effect for the mountains and valleys of southwest California through Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

The point of origin for the first fire was near the high end of Foxborough Drive, above the San Sevaine flood control channel and north of Interstate 15. It was initially reported at 12:43 a.m., said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Chon Bribiescas.

"We woke up at 2:30 and it seemed like it was in our back yard," said Rancho Cucamonga resident Charlotte Martinson, raising her voice to make herself heard above the winds. "It was pitch black and we could see the flames. It was 2003 all over again."

Martinson referred to the Grand Prix Fire of October 2003, which burned more than 69,000 acres and destroyed 194 homes, according to U.S. Forest Service fire and aviation records.

"The firefighters did an unbelievable job to knock it down," Martinson said, struggling to remain upright in the gusting winds. "They really deserve credit."

The Grand Prix Fire was ignited by an ATV rider in the same area, five years ago Tuesday, said San Bernardino County Fire spokeswoman Tracey Martinez.

Inmate crew prepares for windy work in burned areas.

"It's a near miss, because the residents here have been lulled into thinking the brush that's grown back since the Grand Prix is not enough to fuel a wildfire," shouted Dennis Cisneros, of the Rancho Cucamonga Fire Safe Council.

"What they saw early today is how fast and hot a fire can spread," Cisneros said, holding onto his Fire Safe Council hat as another gust set him back on his heels. "It was low to the ground, but it spread to 100 acres right away."

Etiwanda Colony Elementary and Summit Intermediate were the two schools closed as a precaution, Cisneros said.

"The San Bernardino County board of supervisors needs to make sure their fire codes include brush clearance requirements in utility corridors," Cisneros said. "See where these high tension power lines run on the front of these hillsides?

"This is what they call the wildland urban interface," Cisneros said. "This is exactly the path of the Grand Prix Fire. The vegetation is growing back and clearly these areas can be ignited year-round - not just in these seasonal Santana winds."

San Bernardino County Fire Capt. Dan Trapp said he and his engine crew arrived about 1 a.m. and tried to keep the fire from burning into a steep draw. The winds were too strong.

"We couldn't keep it from crossing the ravine, but we were lucky it didn't climb further up the mountain and come back down on us," Trapp said.

"The lesson is you have to always be prepared in Southern California," Trapp said. "Brush clearance and evacuation plans. Even though this area has a history, people get complacent."

No one had been taken into custody or charged in the Foxborough Fire, Martinez said. Both fires remained under investigation.

Burned slopes Wednesday above Fontana and Rancho Cucamonga.


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