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Famous Oak Glen apples are safe for now

August 31, 2009 |  6:45 pm
Oakglennapples With fire raging down the mountainsides Monday, the phone at Los Rios Rancho in Oak Glen just kept ringing. It rang so much that manager Devon Riley changed the number on his answering machine.

"I had three ladies on the phone in tears," he said. "They said they heard the apple orchards had burned up."

Despite some close calls, the apples that made this town famous have so far escaped unscathed in what fire officials have called the Oak Glen III fire.

The fire has burned 1,000 acres and was 25% contained as of Monday afternoon. Oak Glen, which sits at 5,000 feet in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains, was evacuated, though many residents stayed.

The fire flared early Monday morning and raced down to Oak Glen Road, stopping just yards short of Riley's Farm, a landmark known for its variety of apples and reenactments of Revolutionary War battles. This weekend marks the beginning of the harvest season, and the owners feared for the worst.

"It got right down to the road; that's the closest I have ever seen it," said Scott Riley, one of the managers. "We are just lucky there were no Santa Ana winds."

He said his 3,500 apple trees had emerged unharmed. It was a different story across the street, where the mountainside was nothing but gray, smoldering ash.

Fire officials said the blaze was still a threat because of the winds and deep underbrush.

"We saw some significant headwinds today. The fire retardant is lying on top, but the underbrush is still burning," said Mike Horton, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

A second fire broke out near Yucaipa about 4:30 p.m. and was growing. It was under aggressive air assault Monday evening with aircraft that included the DC-10 tanker.

-- David Kelly in Oak Glen

Photo: Wilshire's Apple Shed, where you can pick apples or buy already-picked fruit. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

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