San Gabriel Valley Tribune

San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Article Published: Saturday, September 18, 2004 - 9:21:49 PM PST

Forest in recovery
No arrests made in Curve, Williams fires; probes end
By Michelle Rester, Staff Writer

Curve Fire
Fire Captain, Andy Menshek, from the San Miguel Fire District in San Diego, walks through the burned out area of the Curve Fire in the San Gabriel Canyon off Highway 39, September 6, 2002. (Staff photo by Mike Mullen)
ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST -- It's been about two years since the San Gabriel Mountains s that charred more than 50,000 acres.

The fires -- Curve and Williams -- sent cabin owners in a panic as evacuation crews and rescue workers escorted them down the mountain within weeks of each other in September 2002. Many lost their homes.

No arrests were ever made, and both investigations have been closed. Officials say cult activity is to blame for the Curve Fire. But they'll never know the cause of the Williams Fire because its point of origin -- a turnout near Camp Williams -- was buried during a landslide, said Rita Wears There have been a host of interesting theories.

"One person from Catalina Island saw a single lightning bolt come down from the sky and hit that particular site. How they could see from Catalina, I don't know," Wears said. "Then there was someone else who saw a person that looked like a vampire walk into a store and take responsibility for it. They were pretty bizarre."

A makeshift altar with candles and animal carcasses was found at the exact spot where fire officials believe the Curve Fire began Sept. 1, during Labor Day weekend 2002. Officials said the fire most likely started during some sort of cult ritual --something not uncommon in that area.

Although there were tons of leads, no one was ever detained and no arrests were made, officials said.

Close to 21,000 acres burned during the Curve Fire, which cost about $13.3 million to fight, said Kathy Peterson, a spokeswoman for the Angeles National Forest.

Scores of cabins were gutted during the Williams Fire, which blackened 38,094 acres as it ripped through the Angeles National Forest and threatened homes in Azusa, Claremont, Glendora, La Verne and San Dimas.

It started Sept. 22, 2002, near Camp Williams on East Fork Road, where hundreds of campers go for vacations and weekends. The Williams Fire caused $15.9 million in damage, Peterson said.

Old-timers at Camp Williams, however, say even the worst wildfire wouldn't scare them away. Fortunately, no one was injured during the battle.

"We're still touchy. The first sign of smoke and we're all jumping," said Fred Inman e and heads the volunteer fire department. "But nothing could turn me away from here. Same for everyone else. People just don't want to give up the forest."

And while there are still hints of the devastating blaze, things returned to normal fairly quickly. It started "greening up" the next year, and the camp has been at capacity with residents and weekend campers ever since, Inman said.

Each spring since the fires, there has been a different crop of wildflowers and plants, said Steve Segreto ralist for the U.S. Forest Service, who also gives various tours of the forest.

"The first year after, it was all covered with wildflowers," he said. "This year, there's a different type of flower and more grasses. Next year, I would assume there would be more of a progression with less flowers and more shrubs and grasses. You can still see burned yuccas and trees the higher up you go on Highway 39, but you're also seeing a lot of green. It's good to see."


Michelle Rester can be reached at (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2127, or by e-mail at michelle.rester@sgvn.com.

Copyright 2004 San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Los Angeles Newspaper Group