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Big Southern California brush fire could keep burning for a week

September 4, 2012 |  3:45 am

Williams fire

It could take a week to fully contain a brush fire burning in the Angeles National Fire.

The cause of the fire remained under investigation. A burned car was found in the area, officials said, but it was unclear whether the car was the source of the fire or had been consumed by the blaze.

The blaze, which officials dubbed the Williams fire, erupted Sunday afternoon about three miles east of California 39, between Camp Williams Resort and Burro Canyon Shooting Park in the San Gabriel Mountains. By Monday afternoon, it was still only 5% contained, but no structures had been lost and none were threatened, Angeles National Forest spokesman Nathan Judy said.

The most active front of the fire was moving north, toward Rattlesnake Canyon, Judy said — "and there's nothing out there for it to get ahold of," he said. "Nothing but fuel and vegetation."

Four people, including at least two firefighters, had been injured, Angeles National Forest Officer Angie Lavell said. Few details were available, though officials said none of the four required hospitalization. The firefighters suffered from heat-related ailments, Lavell said, and a third person appeared to have injured an ankle.

A hiker stranded in the vicinity of the fire was airlifted to safety, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Officials said the fire might not be fully contained until Monday. Full containment would require crews to dig out, by hand, a fireproof strip of bare earth around the perimeter of the blaze. There were 48 hand crews working on that Monday, but authorities said they were hampered by slopes as steep as 80 degrees and temperatures that hit 98.

"It's extremely steep and rugged terrain, and some of it is inaccessible," Lavell said. "So it's going to take a very long time."

The earthen containment line is required to be 11/2 times as wide as the height of the nearby vegetation to ensure containment. For example, if the nearby brush is 10 feet high, the containment line has to be 15 feet wide. Most of the brush in the area of the fire was dense chaparral that had not burned in at least 15 years.

The crews were receiving support from six helicopters and several air tankers.

The fire was in an area that is popular with hikers and campers. Campgrounds in the area have drawn as many as 12,000 visitors on Labor Day weekends. Numerous public areas in the vicinity of the fire remained evacuated Monday, including campgrounds and picnic areas.

Hundreds of people live in and around Camp Williams Resort, which includes a campground, a mobile home park and a restaurant. Evacuations were suggested there too, but "a few people have decided that they are going to stay," said John Wagner, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

"I don't think the Sheriff's Department is going to physically haul people out," Wagner said.

--Scott Gold and Stephen Ceasar

Photo: Ernesto Rubio of the Dalton Hotshots monitors the Williams fire to let pilots know where to make their drops. (Barbara Davidson, Los Angeles Times / July 31, 2012)