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Wildfire grows, chases thousands out of Southern Calif. forest

Gene Blevins / Reuters

An air tanker flies through thick smoke rising from the hills above San Gabriel mountains as a brush fire rages in the Angeles National Forest on Sunday.

A Southern California brushfire that was only five percent contained grew to 3,600 acres late Sunday, authorities said, forcing thousands of weekend campers to cut short their visits to the popular Angeles National Forest.

The blaze, which broke out near a campground Sunday afternoon, sent a huge cloud of smoke that could be seen from the coast to the desert inland, according to The Associated Press.

Forest spokeswoman L'Tanga Watson told the AP that campgrounds that typically attract up to 12,000 visitors on the three-day holiday weekend, as well as rehabilitation centers and the private community of Camp Williams Resort, above the city of Glendora, were evacuated.

The fire has been labeled the "Williams fire" after the resort, which is located in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Heavily-used recreation area
The 640,000-acre Angeles National Forest is located near populated areas and consequently is heavily used, especially on holiday weekends.

Local reports said that law enforcement during holiday weekends has long been a challenge in the Angeles National Forest.

In addition to overnight campers, the forest attracts hikers and prospectors panning for gold in the East Fork of the San Gabriel River, despite prohibitions on such mining.

Visitors are frequently cited by forest rangers for building illegal bonfires, local reports said.

Officials said that no structures were threatened, according to Inciweb, a wildfire reporting site. Based on the direction the blaze is heading, no structures were expected to be under threat, the site said.

According to the Los Angeles Times, around 300 firefighters have been sent to combat the blaze. Air tankers and helicopters were also being used to drop water and fire retardant on the blaze, the newspaper said.

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By late Sunday, the fire was pushing north on steep terrain toward the Sheep Mountain Wilderness, the Times reported.

Fleeing the flames
Maritza Martinez told NBC Los Angeles
that she fled the area when she noticed smoke.

"When we came up, we noticed a whole bunch of smoke and we started to notice something is burning and little by little the smoke started to grow," according NBCLosAngeles.com.

"My little sister was like, 'Let's go! Let's go!,'" she said.

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For Catharine Vega, the blaze meant her holiday weekend trip was cut short.

"I've never seen a real fire except on TV," she told NBC Los Angeles. "We stopped to see, and we saw actual flames and it was scary because we didn't know what to do."

She added: "You come here to enjoy and we were having fun."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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