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Disaster Averted, Trabuco Canyon Fire Causes $325K Damage

Nighttime water drops get credit for limiting the damage in West Horse Thief Canyon. There's only one injury, but fire could have been much worse.

Firefighters at the site of the New Year's Day fire in Trabuco Canyon. Credit/Steve Concialdi, OCFA
Firefighters at the site of the New Year's Day fire in Trabuco Canyon. Credit/Steve Concialdi, OCFA

Originally published at 3:30 p.m. Updated to include interview with the resident, total damage, and additional photos. 

By Martin Henderson

What could have been a Trabuco Canyon disaster on New Year’s Day was averted by firefighters who worked throughout the night to contain a wilderness blaze.

About two acres burned in West Horse Thief Canyon on Wednesday night, taking with it two cabins, and injuring one man with first- and second-degree burns, according to authorities. Located in the Cleveland National Forest, damage was estimated to be $325,000, including $250,000 in structural damage to the cabins and $75,000 to their contents.

The fire is out, said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi, although 95 firefighters were in the area Thursday afternoon. “We’re just mopping up,” he said.

Concialdi said the incident commander indicated the fire could have grown to 10,000 acres had it been windy and an OCFA helicopter not made nighttime water drops early in the blaze. But firefighters caught a break, and the chopper dropped water from Irvine Lake onto the steep hillside where three spot fires broke out after burning embers landed in thick bush.

Some of those embers from the origination site wafted about a quarter mile away to ignite the spot fires in vegetation that was 10 feet high and inaccessible to ground crews.

Water drops continued until about 11 p.m., after the fire was reported at 6:07 p.m. At its peak, about 100 firefighters were on the scene, but that was scaled back overnight, but reinforced at sun-up.

Concialdi said the helicopter’s nighttime activities saved the day, not only providing water, but reconnaissance in the area.

The injured man was staying in one of the cabins, which was owned by his family. He suffered burns on his neck and arms, and a laceration on one of his feet. He disappeared after being treated at the scene and refusing transportation to a hospital. 

According to Concialdi, investigators who spoke to the man concluded the fire was not suspicious.  

Although the man in his 20s was injured, the dog that also resided at the cabin was uninjured.

Concialdi said no drug-making equipment had been found, nor is it considered a factor in the cause of the fire.

Two cabins burned completely, but the damage could have been far worse. There are 20 cabins in West Horse Thief Canyon, Concialdi said, and about 35 cabins in Holy Jim Canyon. 

Earlier reports indicated the fire was in Holy Jim Canyon.

The land is owned by the United States Forest Service, which leases the cabins to the occupants.

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