19 November 2012

Carbon Canyon Fire History: The 1978 Sleepy Hollow Firestorm

A decent downpour over the weekend came at the fourth anniversary of the 2008 Freeway Complex fire and it might well be that this year will pass without a major blaze, though who can tell.

In the long history of major conflagrations in Carbon Canyon, the next significant event after the 1929 and 1958 fires was one that broke out almost to the day of the latter one.  On 23 October 1978, a wildfire erupted that brought back memories of two decades before.  In fact, the Los Angeles Times article that appeared to discuss the new event was titled "Carbon Canyon Village Spared With Wind's Aid" and began with this statement:

Twenty years ago, almost to the day, a wild fire burned 32 houses and cabins in the quiet little Carbon Canyon community called Sleepy Hollow.  Monday, for several nervous hours, history threatened to repeat itself.

A total of 3,000 acres was consumed by the flames and threatened to road down the steep ridges flanking the neighborhood, but as reporter Evan Maxwell noted, "this time, the Santa Ana winds may have been on the side of man, according to fire officials.  Those winds carried a plume of smoke over Orange County, but Sleepy Hollow was spared."

From all appearances, the fire was racing without pause towards the community, which was said to contained about 100 buildings, but heavy winds caused them to react so that "the main body of the fire was blown past the community . . . before flames stated backing down the hillsides to the homes."  With the unexpected occurrence, the article continued, "this may have prevented a maor disaster in the area . . . the flames were relatively subdued when they moved close to the homes, many in brush-choked canyons and beneath dry oak trees."

The situation changed so dramatically that some residents left fearing for the worst, so that "they left the windows and doors open in their houses.  Firemen had to enter dozens of homes to close them up."  Others stayed put and sprayed water on their roofs while firefighting aircraft dropped flame retardant material on the fire.  In all, there were some 350 fire personnel battling the blaze, which had been fueled by 40-mph winds before the intensity of the Santa Anas died down by dark, allowing crews to establish fire lines and institute back-firing along the perimeter of the blaze.

In addition to those who evacuated from Sleepy Hollow, there were about 200 cattle who were taken from a ranch in Telegraph Canyon--this being four years before the creation of Chino Hills State Park, so this was presumably the Rolling M Ranch--and some thirty horses from the El Rodeo Stables on the Brea side of the Canyon.  Olinda Village, including today's Hollydale Mobile Home Estates, which was then called the Wayside Trailer Park, was bracing for evacuations, but no mandatory order was given.

The conflagration moved south from Sleepy Hollow hearing across the open ranch land which became Chino Hills State Park and headed towards Yorba Linda, where some residents worried about what might happen, but the diedown with the winds eased concerns.  For all of the potential danger, not a single structure nor one casualty resulted from the fire.

Matters would not be so providential, however, in the next big Carbon Canyon fire, which will be covered soon.

No comments: