Wildfire near LA remains at 98 percent containment

 Wildfire near LA remains at 98 percent containment

25 September 2009

published by The Associated Press 

USA — The once-massive California forest fire that killed two firefighters and incinerated 89 homes won’t be fully contained until the season’s first rain, officials said Thursday.

With the blaze now 98 percent contained, firefighters have gotten as close as they can to surrounding the wildfire that burned 251 square miles of forest northeast of Los Angeles in recent weeks, U.S. Forest Service fire spokesman Bob Poole said.

Fire officials had anticipated completely containing the fire by midnight Thursday, but Poole said they backed off their goal when they realized they couldn’t get crews into parts of the fire perimeter where the terrain was too steep.

“They tried to get in there, but it’s just vertical there,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t have some sort of precaution there. We have retardant but not a line.”

Firefighters continued to widen the fire break with the objective of constructing a 500-foot buffer around the burned area. About 700 firefighters and nine helicopters are involved in the mop-up operations.

He said the blaze won’t be declared fully contained until the first rain of the season. There was no rain in the immediate forecast.

Meanwhile, about 35 miles to the west, crews carved firebreaks to try to stop a 27-square-mile wildfire burning in Ventura County.

“It’s a full attack,” said Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Bill Nash.

High heat and very low humidity kept fire danger high even though meteorologists said the dry Santa Ana winds that spread the flames were weakening.

The blaze was 65 percent surrounded, and the effort to increase containment involved 21 helicopters, 21 bulldozers, 214 fire engines and 1,800 firefighters. Eight air tankers were also available.

Winds died down compared with earlier in the week, he said. But triple-digit temperatures persisted along with relative humidity levels in single digits.

The fire erupted Tuesday north of the city of Moorpark and has spread through hills, mountains and agricultural lands, including avocado orchards. Two outbuildings have been destroyed and 75 homes, along with oil production sites and electrical transmission lines, remained threatened.

Eight injuries have been reported, none serious, Nash said.

The fire began near an agricultural mulch pile, but the cause remained under investigation, authorities said.

Firefighting costs topped $3 million.

Elsewhere in Southern California, San Bernardino County authorities said a 16-year-old boy may have been involved in starting up to 14 wildfires in the inland region east of Los Angeles since 2006.

The youth was arrested near a new fire Wednesday near Yucaipa and was booked into juvenile hall for investigation of arson. The district attorney’s office was awaiting reports before considering charges.

The 347-acre Yucaipa fire was 98 percent contained, spokesman Bill Peters said.

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