News Column

Cool Weather Slowing SoCal Wildfires

May 6, 2013

The Springs fire in Camarillo, Calif., which burned through 28,000 acres before improved weather helped crews with containment, was not started by arson or incendiary device or any other suspicious activity, officials said Sunday.

A three-day investigation into the cause of the fire found nothing to indicate it had been intentionally set, according to the Ventura County Fire Department.

Investigators scoured the fire's point of origin about a quarter-mile north of the Conejo Grade off Highway 101 and interviewed witnesses, spokesman Mike Lindbery said. They found no evidence of suspicious activity or anything to validate rumors, including one that a cigarette butt was the culprit.

"They've been unable to determine a specific cause. ... We can't tell exactly what it was," Lindbery said.

During moist, cool conditions this weekend, firefighters increased containment to 75 percent Sunday afternoon from 60 percent earlier in the day.

There were 62 engines, 33 fire crews, six helicopters, two bulldozers and 10 water tenders fighting the blaze as of 7 p.m. Sunday, according to Cal Fire. Agency spokesman Tom Piranio estimated about 1,060 firefighters were working on the blaze Sunday afternoon.

A county Fire Department damage inspection team performed an assessment of the burned area Sunday afternoon. Members reported no homes were destroyed or damaged. The number of destroyed outbuildings, such as recreational vehicles and agricultural buildings, and other structures was reduced to 10 from 25, and the number of such structures that were damaged declined to four from five.

Piranio said the numbers changed drastically due to more accurate mapping and GPS monitoring of the area.

Fire officials used the possibility of returns home as a motivational tool at a briefing for firefighters Sunday.

"The harder you push today, the sooner you can go home," said Mike Parkes, a deputy chief with Cal Fire.

Showers Sunday morning helped with containment of the fire but did too little to dampen the soil, department spokesman Tom Piranio said.

Ventura County firefighters reported light rain was falling on the blaze Sunday night.

Today there is a 50 percent chance of rain and a chance of a thunderstorm, the National Weather Service reported. The weather will be cloudy with temperatures in the low 40s to 50s.

The relative humidity was 95 percent to 100 percent in the mountain areas Sunday, said Scott Sukup, a weather service meteorologist. Temperatures were in the low 50s to 60s, the agency reported.

Nick Schuler, Cal Fire battalion chief, said Sunday there had been no new flare-ups.

"We're making quite a bit of progress," Schuler said. "We've really transitioned from a fire attack to a mop-up patrol."

Officials called the fire a "dirty fire" -- flames raged through an area quickly, wiping out some areas of vegetation and fuel but leaving other pockets unburned. Those unburned pockets were the focus of firefighting efforts Sunday.

Firefighters kept watch on hot spots in the Dos Vientos area and inspected the damage, working in the rugged terrain around Deer Creek Road where they had built a perimeter around the fire area.

Starting Sunday night, firefighters were taking a new approach toward the hot spots by replacing larger engines with smaller equipment, said Mike Lindbery, spokesman with the Ventura County Fire Department.

"Beginning tonight we will have heavy duty pickup trucks with water tanks driving the perimeter of the fire looking for hot spots," Lindbery said.

The goal was "buttoning this fire up," said Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Tony McHale.

The fire threat that chased Barbara Karplus out of her Newbury Park home Thursday had ended Sunday. Still, she worried what would happen if rains came and sent mud down the now barren hills behind her home.

"I don't feel like it's completely over until the vegetation grows back," she said.

Still, the teacher and tax accountant felt thankful to the firefighters who guarded her and her neighbors' homes.

Her 16-year-old daughter felt the same way. Her sister and she showed their appreciation by gathering oranges for the firefighters.

"They were grateful everything was safe," Karplus said.

At one point, about 4,000 homes were considered endangered by the fire. No homes were in active jeopardy Sunday, fire officials said.

Eight firefighters were injured during the blaze. All suffered minor injuries, officials said.

Source: (c)2013 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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