Thursday, July 17, 2008

Castle Fire - Sentinel Article

Castle Fire contained, cause unknown
Jennifer Squires - Sentinel Staff Writer
Santa Cruz Sentinel
Article Launched:07/17/2008 01:31:51 AM PDT

Fire crews contained the Castle Fire on Wednesday, but Cal Fire officials said firefighters will remain in Castle Rock State Park for several days to douse smoldering areas.

The fire consumed 18 acres in a densely wooded, remote area in the center of the 5,200-acre park off Skyline Boulevard.

The terrain and vegetation in the area has been a challenge to fire crews, and the fire was fought largely with air tankers during the first 20 hours it burned.

Cal Fire spokeswoman Angela Bernhesel said it will take several days for firefighters to control the blaze, which is burning in the San Lorenzo Headwaters Natural Preserve below Goat Rock.

"It's just still a lot of hot spots on the ground," Bernhesel said via cell phone as she hiked into the fire. "There's a lot of snags that are burning close to the [fire] line."

The fire was reported around 4:15 p.m. Monday, but it took firefighters about 12 hours to hike to the blaze, according to Cal Fire. The crews had to cut fire line as they went because the natural preserve has few trails.

No homes were threatened. No evacuations or road closures were ordered, but State Parks rangers asked that people not use the upper areas of Castle Rock State Park while fire crews are working.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

The fire broke out in an oak and manzanita forest near the area where sheriff's deputies and state drug agents eradicated more than 11,000 marijuana plants from three separate gardens last week. There are no power lines or hiking trails in that part of the park, and there was no lightning the day the fire started.

"I think it's going to be real difficult to get anything [about the cause] just because of the terrain and the burn itself," Bernhesel said.

Firefighters spent most of Tuesday laying 6,000 feet of hose from the McDonald Gulch area up the hill to the flames, and finally pumped water to the fire Tuesday afternoon.

Helicopters shuttled firefighters into the blaze on Tuesday, but on Wednesday, fire crews had to hike about an hour to reach the bottom of the fire. There were about 100 fire personnel, including a strike team from New Mexico, assigned to the blaze.

"They're having trouble getting enough water. It's so steep out here -- practically vertical," said Bernhesel, adding that some firefighters were carrying backpack pumps so they could get adequate water to the flames.

Two air tankers, two helicopters equipped with buckets and a tactical plane were battling the blaze Wednesday morning, then put on stand-by in case they were needed again, Bernhesel said.

The Castle Fire is the smallest of four named wildfires that have burned in Santa Cruz County this summer. The Summit Fire blackened 4,270 acres above Corralitos in the Santa Cruz Mountains in late May. In June the Martin Fire burned 520 acres in Bonny Doon and the Trabing Fire charred 630 acres in Larkin Valley, north of Watsonville.

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