Wildfire burns near LA, 1,000 flee homes as fire comes near

 Wildfire burns near LA, 1,000 flee homes as fire comes near

29 April 2008

published by ap.google.com

CA, USA — Fire crews battling a wildfire had a close call early Monday as winds, which had been fairly tame, unexpectedly kicked up and sent flames within yards of several houses.

Firefighters watered down embers that drifted onto a few roofs and fought back the blaze.

All of Sierra Madre’s schools have canceled Monday classes, and the 400-acre wildfire forced the evacuation of at least 1,000 people from their homes in the foothills. Authorities said no homes have burned since the fire began Saturday.

About 500 firefighters attacked the blaze, aided during the daytime by helicopters and water-dropping air tankers, said city of Sierra Madre spokeswoman Elisa Weaver.

“This is pretty serious,” Weaver said. “Some of these areas have not burned in over 40 years.”

Sierra Madre spokesman James Carlson said Sunday evening that crews had the fire 30 percent contained. Light winds and rising humidity had aided firefighters, who hoped to have the blaze fully contained within four to seven days, Carlson said.

The evacuations would be in place until at least 6 a.m. Monday.

On Sunday, helicopters made water drops on a steep ridge above Sierra Madre near Bailey Canyon Wilderness Park, about 15 miles northeast of Los Angeles and just east of Pasadena. A fixed-wing water tanker also dropped flame retardant.

Aircraft also were helping fire officials assess the movement of the blaze, which had been creeping northwest into Angeles National Forest, Battalion Chief Tim Davis of the Forest Service said.

“It’s very steep, inaccessible terrain, and it’s very heavy brush,” Davis said at a news conference. “Very difficult and arduous labor for these crews. You can’t get bulldozers into the majority of where these fingers of fire run.”

Two firefighters had minor injuries — one was treated for heat exhaustion, another for a strained knee, authorities said.

The blaze stranded 50 guests from a wedding party at the Chantry Flats ranger’s station on Saturday until they were airlifted out Sunday afternoon, Weaver said. It took five helicopter trips from the ranger’s station to the parking area where the wedding party’s cars were. The party then was escorted out by road.

Investigators were working to determine the cause of the fire.

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