USA — A wildfire burning among houses in the hills southeast of Los Angeles was ignited by flames from a stolen car that was intentionally set ablaze during strong Santa Ana winds, a fire official said Monday.
Orange County Fire Authority Battalion Chief Ed Fleming stopped short of calling it arson, however, because it wasn’t clear if the intent was to start a wildfire or simply cover up criminal evidence.
“They have confirmed that it was a stolen car and that the car was intentionally ignited,” Fleming said. “As we fight the fire, they are trying to come up with every lead possible to figure out who did this and why and what their motive was.”
Cool morning weather helped firefighters get ahead of a wind-driven wildfire Monday morning. The 3-square-mile blaze had damaged two homes but was 80 percent contained, up from just 30 percent early in the day, fire officials reported.
After Sunday’s high near 100 degrees, the morning temperatures in the 50s were a relief, but dry, windy weather remained a concern for the rest of the day, Fleming said. The National Weather Service forecast temperatures in the 80s and 90s.
“It is going to cause some challenges for the firefighters, but they are going to work through the day and through the night to make sure it is contained by tomorrow,” Fleming said.
A red flag alert, indicating high fire danger, remained in effect in much of Southern California, where a prolonged drought has made the chaparral-covered hills highly combustible.
“In Southern California, we’re always 24 hours away from having a wind-driven, low humidity fire,” Orange County Fire Capt. Ian MacDonald said.
The wildfire was reported Sunday morning, and hot, dry wind quickly spread it through an unincorporated neighborhood where it threatened multimillion-dollar homes about 35 miles southeast of Los Angeles.
Residents of about 500 homes were evacuated but most were able to return Sunday night. Two homes and another structure were damaged, and a fourth structure was destroyed, said Capt. Steve Miller of the Orange County Fire Authority.
Temperatures hit record highs for March 11 in many spots, including 97 in nearby Fullerton. The city’s previous record high for the day was 84 degrees in 1959. The wind gusted to 49 mph and humidity hovered around 5 percent.
The dry weather comes two years after the region was awash with a near-record 37 inches of rain. Only about 2.4 inches of rain has fallen on downtown Los Angeles since July 1. Normal annual rainfall in Los Angeles is 11.43 inches.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s weather models suggest that an emerging La Nina pattern of cold water in the tropical Pacific will keep the area dry.