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Owner of popular mountain cafe fears it has gone up in flames

August 31, 2009 | 12:03 pm

Cafe For 32 years, Jim Lewis lived and worked in the middle of Angeles National Forest, flipping burgers and throwing together sandwiches for hunters, bikers and commuters at his family's Hidden Springs Cafe.

For 32 years, he watched fires come and go, each time skirting the serene, punch-bowl shaped canyon where the cafe sits, where the only sound was the nearby stream and the rustling of passing deer, coyote and the occasional mountain lion.

Early this morning, Lewis found himself listening to passing traffic on the 5 Freeway near his sister's Burbank home, unable to sleep, his mind on the raging wall of flames he saw enclosing Hidden Springs just before he fled.

Lewis and his brother Otis stayed until the very last minute Sunday afternoon, desperately trying to save the 22-acre property where he ran the cafe and lived with his brother and mother. Thick, black smoke turned everything pitch black, and flames about 80 feet tall emerged from over the ridge south of the canyon, he said.

"If there is a hell, my brother and I were in it," he said this morning. "That red, roaring monster just came up over the hill, and it was the deepest, reddest, orange flames."

Officials at the Station fire command center could not confirm what became of the cafe and other properties south of Angeles Forest Highway and Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road in the center of the forest. A fire assessor tried to enter the area Sunday but was thwarted by a collapsed culvert, said Dianne Cahir, an information officer for the U.S. Forest Service. In the same canyon, along Angeles Forest Highway, a Korean Christian prayer center and two properties used as filming locations were damaged or destroyed in the fire, residents said.

Barbara Webb owns Singing Springs, which has been used as a location for horror films, B-movies and music videos. Webb said her gatekeeper, who lives on the property, saw a blast of flames at Hidden Springs, and embers and balls of fire landed on a building on her property. Webb said she was up all night, worrying about what happened to the property her father purchased in 1947.

Lewis said he had little hope that his cafe and home had been spared. He and his brother worked since Friday to fight the fire, barely sleeping, hauling hoses and nozzles to get as much water on the buildings as possible. They had no help from fire crews, he said.

At about 4 p.m. Sunday, a fire official told the brothers they had to leave. They drove about a mile north, pulled their trucks over and looked back. The flames were on their tail, moving almost as fast as they were driving, Lewis said.

Lewis said he served generations of people at his cafe and had customers who came in regularly over decades. He said his phone has been ringing nonstop with calls from customers who heard the news, even from some who had moved away and called from Texas, Idaho or New Jersey.

"That restaurant was more of a lifestyle than a business," he said.

-- Victoria Kim

Credit: Hiddenspringscafe.homestead.com

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