Crews Try to Contain California Wildfire

The blaze, one of two major California wildfires, was posing its greatest threat to Mount Baldy Village.


MOUNT BALDY VILLAGE, Calif. (AP) -- Firefighters dug in to fight a pitched battle against a 32,000-acre wildfire that was burning slowly toward the suburbs pressed against the southern edge of the Angeles National Forest.

The blaze, one of two major California wildfires, was posing its greatest threat to Mount Baldy Village, a hamlet of 900 full-time residents that is a throwback to a largely bygone era when rustic getaway locales dotted Southern California's mountains.

``We are at the top of the chimney,'' said Capt. Jim Wilkins, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service in the village that sits 4,000 feet up the mountain it is named for and is a stopping point for skiers, hikers, families on outings.

The fire threatening it was 35 percent contained Thursday night. The state's other major wildfire, near Morgan Hill in Santa Cruz County, was 40 percent contained.

To protect Mount Baldy Village, firefighters laid out more than 20,000 feet of hose, and on Thursday night they began setting back fires in an effort to clear brush and keep the approaching flames from jumping Mount Baldy Road.

Late Thursday the flames were still at the bottom of a canyon, within two miles of the village. Air tankers regularly rumbled overhead on sorties to bomb distant flames with retardant and water.

Only about 80 of the village's 900 full-time residents had remained by Thursday. Among those who ignored the requests of sheriff's deputies to leave was 11-year resident Michelle Olson.

``You can drag my smoldering carcass out, but you're not going to take me out of my home,'' she said, adding, ``You have to have some kind of humor, otherwise you'll go crazy.''

Mount Baldy Lodge owner Ron Ellingson, 50, intended to stay to protect his property with a hose connected to a pump and his pool - but only to a limit.

``If the firemen leave, we're leaving,'' he said. ``We're not going to stay here and fight the fire by ourselves. We figure as long as the firemen are here it must be safe to be here.''

Only three minor injuries had been reported among the nearly 3,200 firefighters working the fire since last weekend.

The blaze has burned 71 cabins and other buildings within the Angeles National Forest since it began Sunday. The fire in Santa Cruz County has destroyed 11 homes and damaged four, blackening 3,142 acres.

``This fire season throughout the West has been one of the worst we've ever seen. Fire behavior has been erratic and there's no end in sight until we get some rain,'' said Wilkins, the fire spokesman in Mount Baldy Village.