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Sheep Fire at 75 percent containment

Officials lift Wrightwood evacuations
October 6, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Mandatory evacuations for Wrightwood were lifted at noon Tuesday as firefighters continued to battle the Sheep Fire in San Bernardino County.Fire officials say 19 miles of fire line are left to construct in steep and rugged terrain. Firefighters will also be mopping up hot spots.

Wrightwood residents are back home after evacuation orders for the Sheep Fire were lifted Tuesday.

Firefighters were making excellent progress Tuesday. The fire perimeter had not spread at all Tuesday. The Sheep Fire had burned approximately 7,128 acres by Tuesday afternoon, and firefighters don't expect that number to rise. The number they do expect to rise is containment, which was at 32 percent Tuesday afternoon. By Tuesday night, the fire was 75 percent contained.

The good news for local residents: Highway 2 is open. Residents can access downtown Wrightwood, and they can return home.

A stream of cars, trucks, and recreational vehicles starting pouring into Wrightwood just after 12 noon, back home for the first time in days.

"We appreciate the public's support, they've been real good with us," said Jay Hausman, San Bernardino County Fire Dept.

But not everyone waited until noon to come back. One resident, who didn't want to be identified, snuck in through a dirt road.

"Frustrated, they're not giving me enough answers, and every time I called it's just, all they tell you is it's a mandatory evacuation," said the unidentified local man.

"Very frustrating, if I had to do it again I wouldn't have left," said Wrightwood resident Norm Belisle.

Belisle says he spent the last two nights in a Hesperia hotel room with six small dogs.

"We couldn't get back sooner, I was calling the sheriff, practically three or four times a day, trying to find out when we could get back," said Belisle.

But despite the frustration, firefighters say there was good reason to keep folks out this long.

"Even though the public's not seeing a lot of flame or smoke, there's still a lot of heat that's buried in the root systems," said Hausman.

And the fire could have taken off once again. That's why controlled burns were still in effect Tuesday so firefighters could get rid of excess fuels.

But even frustrated residents found time to say, thank you.

"I mean they did a fantastic job," said the unidentified local resident.

"Oh, the fire department was just so wonderful, because that Sunday morning, there was like six helicopters and two bombers, and they were just hitting our area, just concentrated, and it was just amazing," said Wrightwood resident Sharon Murphy.

Flames broke out near Sheep Canyon Road, near Lytle Creek, shortly after 2 p.m. Saturday, and had charred a total of 7,128 acres by Tuesday.

The fire was 32 percent contained Tuesday afternoon.

Fire officials say five structures were destroyed in the Lone Pine and Swarthout Canyon areas, along with vehicles, RVs and heavy equipment.

Mandatory evacuations are still in place for Swarthout Canyon, Lone Pine Canyon and for several areas in Lytle Creek. Those are the Applewhite Campground, Applewhite Picnic Area, and areas east of Lytle Creek Road up to and including Mountain Lakes RV Park.

The fire's edge came less than a mile from Wrightwood, prompting an evacuation of the entire town Sunday morning. Firefighters managed to push back the flames so no homes in Wrightwood were destroyed.

The fire is estimated to be contained by Thursday evening.

The cause is under investigation.

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