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Gaviota inferno declared contained

11 June 2004

By HILDY MEDINA
NEWS-PRESSTAFF WRITER

The Gaviota fire was declared fully contained by 6 p.m. Thursday, but as a precaution firefighters will remain for several days to watch for any hot spots in the area.

But even as crews put the final touches on that fire, a new alert sounded in the Foxen Canyon area in the North County, where a six-acre grass fire led emergency crews to send two heavy-lift helicopters working the Gaviota fire to the area shortly before 5 p.m.

So far, the Gaviota blaze has cost $3.7 million to fight and blackened 7,440 acres since it started on Saturday. Seventeen firefighters suffered minor injuries.

But one incident on Tuesday almost turned tragic.

Candice Signa and her two children, a 3-year-old and a 3-month-old, were headed south on Highway 101 about 3:15 p.m. that day when they were hit with a wall of "black and orange smoke" that turned out to be the fire.

"I watched the fire come down the ridge, and I thought, 'That looks like it's pretty close.' By the time I processed that thought, I was in the middle of it," said Ms. Signa. "I couldn't open my doors or I would have been burned."

A firefighter in a passing engine screamed out the window to Ms. Signa and another motorist who came to a dead stop to "drive, drive, drive."

They did, and seconds later were doused by a helicopter drop.

"I don't think they saw us because the smoke was so thick," said Ms. Signa, who was not injured. Thick smoke would later cause Highway 101 to be closed twice that afternoon.

Ground crews armed with shovels, picks and bulldozers spent most of Thursday carving out a perimeter and keeping a close watch around the eastern end of Arroyo Hondo Canyon.

e-mail: hmedina@newspress.com