Wolf Fire rages out of control
by Lenny Roberts
When firefighters get a call of a vehicle fire in Los Padres
National Forest, all they can do is hope that it doesn't spread
into the brush.
In this case, it did.
The blaze, dubbed the "Wolf Fire" because it began
near the Wolf's Grill on Maricopa Highway about 25 miles north
of Ojai, was first reported Saturday at 3 p.m. as a burning van.
By the time firefighters from County Station 22 arrived, it had
already begun spreading through terrain that hadn't burned in
70 years. By Tuesday, it had consumed more than 7,000 acres and
was only 10 percent contained.
While speculation continues to mount that the fire was accidentally
started by shooters, officials from the United States Forest
Service will only say that it remains under investigation.
The fire is burning on both sides of State Highway 33, approximately
midway between Highway 101 and Highway 166, according to USFS
spokeswoman Juanita Freel. The fire is expected to burn for days
with no containment in sight.
Ojai District Ranger John Bridgewater had some encouraging but
cautious words when describing the fire's potential.
"We're lucky that we're not in the late fall season when
the gravity winds we call Santa Anas are blowing," he said.
"We're still struggling with Rose Valley, but the town is
not in immediate danger and we don't perceive it to be, but there
are major fronts moving in all directions. What sort of localized
results we have would depend on what type of weather we have
today. We have a lot of work left to do in the backcountry"
Forecasters have predicted temperatures hovering around the 100-degree
mark for the next few days, but the winds that could push the
fire rapidly toward structures in the areas of Sespe Wilderness,
Matilija Wilderness, Dick Smith Wilderness, recreation sites
in Pine Mountain area and scattered structures on private land
along Highway 33 are expected to be moderate, although those
areas are considered to be currently threatened.
On Monday, periods of extreme fire were observed during the day,
and continuous spotting occurred, especially on the north flank
of the fire, which is burning in medium to dense chaparral mixed
with pinion and juniper. The fire is exhibiting significant upslope
runs, Freel noted, especially northward toward Pine Mountain
"The fire continued to move toward the Howard Creek drainage
but at a slower rate," she said. "A number of residences,
structures and other improvements are threatened if the fire
reaches Howard Creek. The terrain is steep and rugged, limiting
the use of bulldozers and slowing the progress of crews. With
warmer weather expected on Wednesday, the fire is expected to
burn aggressively to the north and southeast."
As of Monday night, 40 hand crews, 41 engines, seven bulldozers,
10 helicopters, 11 air tankers and 1,153 firefighters were deployed,
and fire suppression costs were $543,000.
The following areas of the Ojai Ranger District of Los Padres
National Forest are now closed to public entry until further
notice due to hazards associated with the Wolf Fire and suppression
All national forest lands on either side of Highway 33 from immediately
north of the Wheeler Gorge Campground to the national forest
boundary at Ozena, Nordhoff Ridge, Rose Valley, the Pine Mountain
area, Matilija Wilderness, portions of the Sespe Wilderness west
of the Sespe Condor Sanctuary and north to the intersection of
the Johnson Ridge Trail and the Ojai District Boundary, the Potrero
Seco area, all national forest lands north of the Valley View,
Gridley, Pines and White Ledge campgrounds in the Ojai front
country. Matilija Canyon Road will be closed to public traffic
during daytime hours until further notice because helicopters
will be drafting water from the Matilija Reservoir. Wheeler
Gorge Campground remains open.
Highway 33 is closed from immediately north of the Wheeler Gorge
Campground to Ozena.
FRIDAY UPDATED FIRE REPORT
By Chris Wilson
Ash continues to fall like snowflakes throughout the valley
as the, so-called, Wolf Fire continues to char thousands of acres
of wilderness north of Ojai.
Officials stationed at Soule Park and Happy Valley School still
can't determine when the blaze will be contained. As of Thursday
morning, nearly 12,000 acres have burned and the fire is still
only 15 percent contained with actual containment still as unpredictable
as the fire itself. $3.7 million has been spent thus far on suppression
of the blaze.
The biologically sensitive Dick Smith, Sespe and Matilija Wilderness
areas are all threatened by the blaze. But the north flank of
the fire has pushed up and slightly over Pine Ridge.
Air tankers loaded with pink soapy fire retardant painted the
ridge all day Wednesday, Kris Fister, a fire information officer
stationed at Soule Park told the OVN Thursday morning.
The front line of the fire continues to push east into the sensitive
Sespe Wilderness following at this point the easterly footprint
of the Matilija Fire, which burned 220,000 acres in 1932. Fire
crews, who expected higher humidity and lower nighttime temperatures
to slow the fire during Wednesday's evening hours were surprised
to learn that more than 2,000 acres burnt during the night.
"We saw temperatures of 82 degrees and humidity of just
10 percent overnight," Fire Information Officer Darren Drake
said. Winds of 6 to 10 mph were steady out of the east. A cooler,
lower pressure front is expected to push onshore as the weekend
sets in. According to Drake, the additional moisture will be
helpful, but more winds could spell disaster. Drake was pleased
to report that of the 1,767 crew members fighting the fire, just
two incidences of dehydration and one bee-sting, allergic reaction,
have been reported thus far.
"We're really emphasizing safety," Drake said.
According to Drake, the U.S. Forest Service has given permission
for dozers to widen the trail that runs along Sespe Creek in
the biologically protected wilderness area. Hand crews will follow
and set back burns to quell the south flank of the fire to keep
it from heading for Ojai. Drake said a natural resource specialist,
archeologist and Chumash tribal liaison will all accompany the
dozer crews and keep them from harming sensitive habitats. No
structures are threatened at this time.
"We're essentially turning an old road that's now a trail,
back into a road again," Drake said.
Drake also noted that fuel moisture levels are extremely low
for this time of year.
"We usually don't see these kind of dry conditions until
August," Drake said.
Hundreds of tents, pitched under shade trees in Soule Park, provide
temporary refuge from 12 to 15 hour shifts cutting fire lines
and setting back fires. Large room-sized tents house feed crews
and support staff, who put in 15 to 18 hour shifts.
At the field adjacent to Happy Valley School, nearly a dozen
helicopters rested waiting to drop crews where the blaze is cutting
up northward up the steep Pine Ridge. The Lewis and Clark Hotshots
from Great Falls, Mont., swapped tips on how to deal with bears
as they waited for a lift to the east flank of the fire. Julien
Magallenez, the squad leader for the crew, said they had landed
in town Tuesday and seen one shift on the fire's front lines.
A few steps away, Tom Lane , a fire crew chief from Stanislaus
National Forest in Northern California radios to a partner on
his partner on Pine Mountain to send a small helicopter over
and lift him and the other 84 members of his crew. He said they
will work to keep the fire from "slopping" more over
Pine Ridge and make an effort to get in front of the blaze and
funnel it down before it reaches Johnson Ridge on the eastern
"We're going to fight this fire on our terms, not on it's
terms," Tom Lane,
There are currently 26 large fires burning in 11 states for a
total of more than 500,000 acres. So far this year about 1.2
million acres have burned throughout the nation, which is nearly
half a million acres above the 10-yearaverage.
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
Back to the news
FROM the Kern River Hot Shot crew plan their next move as the
Wolf Fire rages hot and out of control. Winds shifted Monday
and blew the fire away from Ojai, but there is no containment
in sight, and it is expected to burn for several days before
fire crews can get it under control.