Wildfire Threatens Homes in Southern California

9-29-05 - A wind-whipped wildfire grew rapidly along the city's northwestern edge Thursday, threatening hundreds of homes and forcing evacuations as firefighters worked under hot, dry conditions.

Winds that had spread flames a day earlier were calmer, but the fire turned out to be far larger than originally thought. Firefighters increased their estimates of the wildfire's size to around 17,000 acres after daylight surveys, more than double the early morning figure of 7,000 acres, said Fire Capt. Carlos Calvillo.

More than 1,000 firefighters worked against the tricky combination of dry brush, low humidity and temperatures in the high 90s along the line that divides Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

"We are not going to stop this fire until we get a break in the weather," Fire Capt. Mark Savage said.

Shelters were opened in both counties, and many residents responded quickly to evacuation orders.

"I wasn't going to get stupid about it. There was only one way out, and it was getting real hot," said Jeff Johns, 48.

About 45 evacuees gathered at Canoga Park High School in the San Fernando Valley, where the Red Cross had set up cots and provided meals.

"Our house is still OK, but, oh, God, it's not a good feeling," said Phil Goldenberg, 53, who was at the school's gym with his wife and son.

The blaze destroyed a home and a detached garage and was threatening numerous other canyon homes in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, officials said.

A building at a lab that designed rocket engines during the Cold War was also destroyed. Firefighters said they didn't know what was inside the structure.

One firefighter was struck on the head by a 40-pound boulder and was taken to a hospital, officials said.

Firefighters feared the blaze would spread to Malibu, the celebrity-packed community about 10 miles away, as other fires fanned by Santa Ana winds have in the past.

Firefighters did not know what started the blaze Wednesday.

A blaze in Riverside County, meanwhile, spread over 1,160 acres between the cities of Redlands and Moreno Valley, about 70 miles east of Los Angeles. That fire destroyed three chicken coops at a ranch believed to house 70,000 to 90,000 chickens.

So far this year, wildfires have charred 8.16 million acres nationwide, compared with 7.74 million acres by the same time last year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.


On the Net:

Fire center: http://www.nifc.gov