This MODIS scene is showing fires burning in Califonia on 04 May 2004.
California Firefighters Battle Six Early-Season Blazes
LOS ANGELES – A day after California fire officials announced an early start to the wildfire season, firefighters battled six major blazes dotting mountain ranges between Santa Barbara and San Diego.
The fires erupted during a heat wave on Sunday and Monday and have burned about 16,000 acres of mostly mountain scrub, forcing evacuations and threatening thousands of homes.
Last year, hot and dry conditions touched off 14 major wildfires in Southern California’s mountain ranges in what forestry officials dubbed “The October Fire Siege of 2003.”
Those fires killed 24 people, destroyed 3,710 homes and charred about 750,000 acres.
Fire officials said only a fraction of the dead trees that fueled last year’s firestorms had been consumed, leaving plenty of dry tinder for new fires.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday quickly made funds available for more firefighters and equipment for the two largest fires, known as the Eagle and Cerritos fires.
State and local agencies have already dispatched more than 2,700 firefighters to the six new fires, according to the California Department of Forestry.
On Monday, fire investigators arrested a 44-year-old man on suspicion of causing the Cerritos fire, the largest of the new blazes, which has consumed about 9,000 acres of vegetation and two homes, CDF officials said.
The suspect, Rick Brown, was seen dragging a large piece of steel behind a vehicle on Monday afternoon that sent sparks into dry brush on either side of a mountain road near Corona, about 51 miles east of Los Angeles, officials said.
The Cerritos fire chased about 600 residents from their homes on Monday night. It was 15 percent contained on Tuesday, officials said.
The second largest fire, known as the Eagle fire, has scorched about 4,000 acres and about a dozen buildings near Temecula, about 47 miles north of San Diego, officials said.
The Eagle fire was about 30 percent contained but still threatened about 250 homes and outbuildings as well as a number of commercial vineyards, thoroughbred horse ranches and archeological sites on the Pechanga Reservation, officials said.
Two smaller fires along the Interstate 15 corridor between Los Angeles and San Diego, burned a combined 1,600 acres but were nearly contained by Tuesday, officials said.
A 300-acre blaze in the rugged Los Padres National Forest north of Los Angeles destroyed one home and 34 outbuildings but was confined to a wilderness area, officials said.
Story by Gina Keating
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