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Forest Service employee's home burned in fire, killing dogs he had rescued [Updated]

October 5, 2009 |  4:33 pm

Picture 2

Bobby Wright knows all too well about the threat of wildfires in the San Bernardino National Forest.

Wright, 63, who works for the U.S. Forest Service helping maintain area campgrounds, lost a home three years ago in a fire that swept through the Lytle Creek area. On Saturday, he lost his home again as winds up to 60 mph stoked the Sheep fire as it gobbled up dry chaparral and timber, authorities said today.

The blaze also killed about 20 dogs that Wright had saved after they had been abandoned in the mountains by their owners.

"He's a very nice individual and a hard-working employee," said Carol Underhill, a Forest Service spokeswoman. "He's the type of person who cares about others."

Wright works out of the Lytle Creek Ranger Station as a recreation technician helping maintain area campsites and serving as a liaison to visitors. The area is close to urban centers in Fontana and Rialto and is a popular dumping ground for unwanted dogs, officials said.

Wright kept the dogs at his trailer in Swarthout Canyon, just north of the Lytle Canyon area. The trailer was one of three structures lost in the canyon as wind-whipped flames tore through the area Saturday evening. Wright could not be reached for comment this afternoon.

The blaze prompted authorities Sunday to evacuate the hilltop community of Wrightwood. Officials said this afternoon that the town remains under evacuation, noting that the 7,500-acre blaze was only 20% contained.

[Updated, 7:30 p.m.: The fire is now 30% contained and has burned 7,824 acres, officials say.]

"It's still too much of a safety risk to allow people to go back when much of the fire is not contained," Underhill said.

Nearly 1,300 firefighters, aided by 17 aircraft, were battling the blaze, which officials said was not very active due in large part to a drop in the winds. Over the weekend, gusts were as high as 60 mph. Winds this afternoon were about 10 mph with gusts of about 20 mph, officials said.

Volunteers were organizing Monday afternoon to help Wright. Officials said contributions can be made to the Lytle Creek Volunteer Assn. The group is located at the Lytle Creek Ranger Station, 1209 Lytle Creek Road, Lytle Creek, CA 92438. For more information, call (909) 382-2851.

-- Robert J. Lopez

Photo: The Crane Valley Hotshots hike in the San Bernardino National Forest, mopping up remnants of the Sheep fire Sunday. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times