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Firefighters battle to save homes near Pacoima Canyon

September 3, 2009 | 12:32 pm

Officials directing the fight against the Station fire said their two greatest areas of concern were the southwestern edge and the eastern edge of the huge blaze.

In the southwest, firefighters were trying to save more than a dozen homes from a three-mile front in Pacoima Canyon, just north of Little Tujunga Canyon, with an elaborate controlled-burn strategy.

U.S. Forest Service spokesman Nathan Judy explained how it works: "We’re using flare guns to put fire on top of the hill crest. Then we shoot flares midslope and allow those flares to burn themselves out. After that, crews at the bottom of the hill use drip torches to burn off brush behind threatened homes.”

The battle on the eastern front was more arduous and complex.

That fire was burning along a 10-mile front, advancing slowly eastward across remote and inaccessible forested wilderness about 10 miles west of Crystal Lake and Highway 39.

There ground crews were attempting to cut breaks along ridge lines overlooking steep canyons at the same time that the fire was being assaulted with continual aerial drops.

Judy said that Santa Anita Canyon and the nearby Chantry Flat picnic area were OK as of 11:30 a.m.

Overall, he said, “Things are going pretty well today.”

Elsewhere, a full-scale forensic investigation continued along a stretch of Angeles Crest Highway, about 2 1/2 miles north of La Cañada Flintridge, where federal forest authorities believe the fire started a week ago.  The highway was closed to all but Caltrans and investigative vehicles about a mile above and below the location.

In addition to sifting through soil and gravel in a road turnout, investigators were also studying the way the fire moved out from that area as well as scarring characteristics “with a goal of backtracking to the source of ignition,” Judy said.

But he said authorities were still unable to say exactly what started the fire. However, he said, “if it turns out that there was human involvement, then we’ll be looking into possible criminal charges.”

-- Louis Sahagun