Big Calif. wildfire 71 percent contained

Big Calif. wildfire 71 percent contained

10 September 2009

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USA — Southern California heated up Thursday under the beginnings of a mini heatwave, but anticipated winds did not immediately appear and a huge fire in the Angeles National Forest remained quiet.

Firefighters burned away vegetation below the northeast slope of Mount Wilson, which is crowned with TV and communications antennas for the region, and helicopters made runs in and out of the San Gabriel Mountains while expert hotshot crews worked deep in the wilderness, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Nathan Judy.

The National Weather Service said high pressure was building in the region and winds were expected out of the north Thursday night and Friday with gusts to around 30 mph.

Air flow from the north sometimes produces dry Santa Ana winds which can whip up and spread fires.

Judy said temperatures Thursday afternoon were warmer but humidity levels remained high—27 percent to 30 percent—and cumulus clouds popped up over the San Gabriels.

The 250-square-mile fire was 71 percent contained 16 days after it was ignited by arson along a highway in the forest above Los Angeles’ foothill suburbs. New assessments of damage that occurred earlier in the fire increased the number of destroyed homes by four to 82.

The firefighting force was down to 3,647 after the release of more than 800 personnel.

The search for whoever started the fire is a homicide investigation because two firefighters were killed Aug. 30when their truck plunged down a slope as fire approached a crew camp in the forest.

Elsewhere, a new blaze burned 125 acres in uninhabited Mias Canyon north of the Riverside County city of Banning, about 80 miles east of Los Angeles, but by midafternoon no flames were showing and containment was estimated at 35 percent, said Capt. Fernando Herrera of the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Helicopters and air tankers, including the giant water-dropping Martin Mars seaplane, were used.

Two firefighters suffered heat-related injuries.

Investigators trying to determine the cause of the fire were focusing on an area around an outbuilding that was destroyed, Herrera said.

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