Historic Calif. ranch saved by firefighting technology

By Beatriz E. Valenzuela and Brooke Edwards
The Daily Press

WRIGHTWOOD, Calif. — Droves of residents made their way home to Wrightwood after a mandatory evacuation order was lifted at noon Tuesday.

"Thank you so much," residents yelled from their vehicles as they returned to their mountain homes.

"I'm excited and joyous," 31-year-resident Alton Safford said. "It's amazing the number of firemen fighting this fire. If it wasn't for them this place would've been burnt to the ground for sure. We are so grateful here in Wrightwood."

Safford extended his hand to the fire officials standing in front of the Post Office and gave them each a hearty hand shake.

Other residents honked and waved their thank yous from their loaded vehicles.

One woman drove up Monday with several boxes of cookies for the firefighters and returned on Tuesday to give her thanks again.

The Sheep Fire burned within three-tenths of a mile of the resort town, consuming more than 7,100 acres since flaring up Saturday afternoon.

"It's good to have them back at home," San Bernardino County Fire spokesman Jay Hausman said, as he took the time to answer residents' questions about the fire. "Although this is our jobs, it's always a pleasure to see happy residents return home."

Evacuations remained in place Tuesday evening for Swarthout Canyon, Lone Pine Canyon and for the campgrounds, RV park and recreation areas in Lytle Creek, as the wildfire continues burning near Lone Pine Canyon with 32 percent containment.

New firefighting technology also aided officials in keeping the loss of homes in the area to only one.

The Gel Team, made up of about seven units, used Thermagel to protect several homes including the historical Clyde Ranch. The gel will protect a structure from the flames for up to six hours, said Daniel Elliot with the SBCFD.

"I've got to hand it to the Victorville Gel Crew," said Gary Hopkins Jr. who, along with his father Gary Hopkins Sr., has taken care of the more than 150-year-old property for 15 years.

Flames shot up several feet in the air as it made its way toward the ranch Saturday.

"I've never seen anything like it," Hopkins, Sr. said. "When I left on Saturday I really didn't think (the ranch) was going to make it. But it did. It's nice."

Favorable winds, increased humidity and a massive effort by firefighters pushed the Sheep Fire back from Wrightwood.

Nearly 2,000 people are still helping to battle the blaze through difficult terrain, with 156 engines protecting structures and 57 hand crews constructing fire lines and setting back-fires to protect homes. Some 20 aircraft including the DC-10 Supertanker based at Southern California Logistics Airport continued dropping water and retardant on the fire.

The property did not survive unscathed, though. A piece of equipment used by Virgil Earp was destroyed and a saw mill also burned, but the original Clyde home was still intact.

Five residential structures were lost in the fire in Swarthout and Cajon canyons, though crews kept the blaze from crossing Highway 138 or Highway 2.

Lone Pine Canyon Road and Swarthout Canyon Road remain closed, with Lytle Creek Road open to residents with ID only.

Schools in the Snowline Joint Unified School District reopened today after two days with no classes, as teachers were scattered across Southern California due to the evacuation.

The cause of the Sheep Fire is still under investigation.

Copyright 2009 Daily Press

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