USA — California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said an “out of control” wildfire in the Los Angeles foothills had forced the evacuation of thousands of homes and threatened 12,500 buildings in the heavily populated area.
The heat-driven fire nearly doubled in size overnight and has now burned burned 35,000 acres (14,000 hectares) of thick, bone-dry brush in the mountains above five towns, a 10-mile (16 km) stretch from La Crescenta to Pasadena, the California Fire Department said. About 10,000 homes are under evacuation orders.
“These fires are still totally out of control,” Schwarzenegger told reporters at the fire’s command post in Lakeview Terrace, California. “This is a huge and is a very dangerous fire. The fire is moving very close to homes and to structures.”
The fires prompted Schwarzenegger to return to California immediately following the Saturday funeral of his wife’s uncle, Senator Edward Kennedy, he said.
Three remote homes have been destroyed so far and some 10,000 others and 2,500 other buildings are in danger, as is Mount Wilson, the nexus for key telecommunications facilities, including TV and radio transmission towers.
“That site is the nerve center for most of communication in the Los Angeles area,” Station Fire Commander Mike Dietrich said. “It is not out of danger as we speak. Right now we are so early in the fire and this is a treacherous fire.”
Fire commanders said at a press briefing that more than three homes were lost in the Big Tujunga canyon, though they did not know the exact number.
“We have eyewitness reports that our house is gone and as many as 30 may be lost,” said Beth Halaas, who lives year round with her family in the canyon, where most homes are for weekend use.
The fire that started on Wednesday above the exclusive community of La Canada Flintridge is only 5 percent contained but firefighters may benefit on Sunday from slightly cooler temperatures, just below 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37 Celsius). The cause of the fire is being investigated.
Dense smoke filled the skies over the foothills and prompted authorities to issue health warnings for the Los Angeles basin.
The flames appeared to wane on Saturday evening in the area near NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory but raged at the other end and moved through the mountains toward the inland community of Acton, where evacuations were ordered on Sunday.
The saving grace in this fire has been the absence of high winds but much of the brush in the area has not burned in 60 years and humidity is below 10 percent.
Three civilians have suffered burns and one firefighter has endured unspecified injuries. More than 2,000 firefighters and other personnel are on the ground but it is the aerial assault of water and retardant that has best kept the fire from moving into homes, many of them worth millions of dollars.
The relative lack of wind, however, has also made fighting the fires from the air challenging because thick smoke was hanging over them and making them difficult to see, Schwarzenegger said, adding that the remote terrain was also making firefighting difficult.
Many of the flames are up to 80 to 100 feet high (24 to 30 meters), the governor said, while utility Southern California Edison (EIX.N) said the blaze has cut power to more than 230 customers.
The mayor of La Canada Flintridge, Laura Olhasso, said the situation was looking better for residents after firefighters beat back flames from backyards overnight.
“There are 750 homes evacuated and we are hoping they can get back in this afternoon, but we don’t know that yet. “Our residents think it is a miracle that no structures were lost.”
Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles County last week in response to four fires in the area.
On Sunday, he said there were eight “huge” fires burning statewide. In total, 55,000 acres (22,200 hectares) have burned, he said.