Hundreds ordered to flee LA suburb near wildfire

Hundreds ordered to flee LA suburb near wildfire

28 August 2009

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USA — Wildfires erupted up and down California on Thursday, forcing hundreds of people to evacuate their homes as a late summer siege of heat and low humidity levels made conditions ripe for conflagrations.

Structures burned in the wealthy communities on the Palos Verdes Peninsula south of Los Angeles, while suburbs on the foothills to the north of the city were evacuated as a slumbering fire that suddenly roared to life in the evening hours.

As the flames made their way slowly down from the San Gabriel Mountains, mandatory evacuations were ordered for about 500 homes in La Canada Flintridge, said Forest Service fire spokeswoman Diane Cahir.

The fire kicked up late Thursday afternoon as the blaze scorched at least 500 acres of heavy brush in steep and narrow canyons about 12 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.

Dozens of homes were evacuated in Rancho Palos Verdes, Los Angeles County fire Inspector Steve Zermeno said. TV news footage showed structures on fire and at least one entirely engulfed in flames. Fire officials could not confirm if any structures or homes had been damaged or destroyed.

Firefighting helicopters, which usually don’t fly at night, took advantage of the lack of wind and the light from the bright flames to swoop over the blaze and drop water.

Weather plagued fire crews across Southern California as temperatures in some areas rose toward triple digits and humidity levels headed downward. For a second day, the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning of extreme fire conditions for many of California’s central and southern mountain ranges.

Three days of low humidity and temperatures that hit 99 before noon in downtown Los Angeles sapped the brush of moisture.

In Monterey County, in the central coastal region of the state, 100 homes were evacuated about four miles from the community of Soledad. The fire had consumed more than 2,000 acres of steep grasslands, or more than 3 square miles, since it was reported Thursday afternoon, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Capt. James Dellamonica said.The blaze was zero percent contained.

Another fire in the San Gabriel Mountains spread a lung-burning haze over much of metropolitan Los Angeles, and was 60 percent contained late Thursday after burning across 2,000 acres, or more than 3 square miles, said Capt. Jim Wilkins of the U.S. Forest Service.

Nearly 1,000 firefighters aided by bulldozers and a fleet of water- and fire retardant-dropping aircraft worked the fire’s northeastern edge.

Wilkins said the area is so steep that “it’s almost to the point where you need ropes” for firefighters to reach it.

The fire, believed caused by human action began Tuesday near a dam and reservoir in San Gabriel Canyon, a half-dozen miles above the city of Azusa.

Another fire, in the San Bernardino National Forest in Riverside County, had blackened 600 acres by Thursday evening and prompted authorities to issue a voluntary evacuation of 12 homes in the area near Hemet, said Forest Service fire spokeswoman Anabele Cornejo. She said about five people had left and that the fire was 5 percent contained.

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