The Heat Is Online

LA Wildfires Consume More Than 42,000 Acres

Thousands of Californians ordered to flee wildfire, Sept. 1, 2009

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- A fast-moving wildfire with "a mind of its own" had more than doubled in size and threatened 10,000 homes in Southern California on Monday.

The Station fire had grown to 105,000 acres -- 164 square miles -- by Monday afternoon, up from 45,000 acres in the morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection's Web site.

The blaze, which was only 5 percent contained, was being fueled by dry air and protected by the steep terrain in and around the Angeles National Forest.

"The fire essentially can get up and run any time and has a mind of its own," U.S. Forest Service Incident Commander Mike Dietrich said on CNN's "American Morning" early Monday.

Fire officials said Monday that they had ordered mandatory evacuations for residents of the 10,000 homes under threat. Nearly 100 homes were added to the mandatory evacuations Monday afternoon.

Five people who refused to evacuate were trapped by the fire Monday afternoon, according to fire officials.

The fire was edging closer to the Mount Wilson Observatory, home to 20 television and radio transmission towers as well as fire and police communication equipment.

That area is under a critical threat, and a strike team is in position to protect the observatory. But, Dietrich stressed, "My number one priority is our firefighters' safety."

"If they have to abandon the position, there's no facility that is worth a human life," he said.

The fire has claimed the lives of two firefighters. Capt. Tedmund Hall, 47, and Spc. Arnaldo Quinones, 35, were killed Sunday, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

The two were killed when their vehicle went down a steep 700-foot embankment while they were fighting the Station fire on Sunday afternoon, Dietrich said.

Hall was with the department for 26 years and Quinones for eight years.

 Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement Monday that his administration is "working around the clock to ensure that our brave men and women working on the fires' front lines have the resources needed to respond and beat back these fires as quickly as possible."

"We have the toughest and best-trained firefighters in the world fighting to protect public safety and property," Schwarzenegger said. "I am confident in the state's response as these fires continue to burn throughout California."

Also Monday, the governor toured damage left in the wake of the 49 Fire in Placer County, in northern California. As of Monday, the fire had burned 275 acres and was 50 percent contained.

On Sunday, the governor expressed his condolences for the loss of the firefighters in the Station fire.

The Station fire started Wednesday and had destroyed 18 structures by Sunday. At least 10,000 homes, 500 businesses and 2,000 other structures are threatened by the fire, which exploded in size over the weekend, fueled by low humidity and high temperatures. Evacuations have been ordered for an unspecified number of residents.

One of them was Elsa Aguirre, 57, who left her ranch home in Altadena, California, early Saturday. She, her husband and her cat were at a Red Cross shelter in a high school on Monday. Aguirre brought a box of mementos with her, including her mother's tea seat from Argentina.

"The challenge is going to be going back to reality, because I've been looking at the fire and the mountains from where I am," she said. "The mountains look pretty spooky right now without any vegetation. ... I'm just taking it one day at a time."

The fire is burning in an area that has not seen a major fire in more than 60 years.

"The primary factors are the extreme drought conditions that we've had over the last 10 years, the effect of two-plus weeks of 100-degree temperatures and single-digit relative humidities combined with the perfect conditions in terms of topography," Dietrich said.

Some fire officials have said it is the largest fire they have seen burning without the strong Santa Ana winds.

Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency Friday as a result of the Station fire. The governor also declared a state of emergency in Monterey County, where the Gloria fire has burned about 6,500 acres and the Bryson fire has charred more than 3,000 acres, according to the Forest Service. On Sunday, Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Placer County, his office said.

Three people suffered burns while in the Big Tujunga Canyon recreational area, where three homes were destroyed by the Station fire, said Bruce Quintelier, fire information officer for the Forest Service.

In addition, two to three dozen recreational cabins were destroyed, said Randi Jorgensen, another Forest Service information officer.

The fire is also threatening communication towers on Mount Disappointment, Quintelier said.

Two Firefighters Die in Los Angeles Wildfire


The New York Times, Sept. 1, 2009


Firefighters battling a dangerous wildfire in the mountains north of Los Angeles worked to protect a key communications site and observatory above the city early Monday, as they mourned the deaths of two firefighters who died the day before when their vehicle careened off of a slope in the fire zone, the national Forest Service said.


The blaze, called the Station Fire, has more than doubled in size since Saturday, scorching 42,500 acres of underbrush, scrub oak and mature trees and destroying 18 homes inside the Angeles National Forest. Much of the area has been fire-free for 50 to 60 years, providing plenty of dead undergrowth to fuel the flames.


The fast-moving fire spread in all directions Sunday night into Monday, threatening at least 12,500 homes in suburban and rural communities in the San Gabriel foothills, particularly the small town of Acton 40 miles north of Los Angeles, the national Forest Service said. The night sky over the citys northern suburbs, including La Cañada Flintridge, glowed with orange flames.


The fire was about five percent contained on Sunday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenneger said in a briefing at the fire command post. It was the largest of several wildfires burning around southern and central California and in Yosemite National Park on Monday.


This is a huge and very dangerous fire, Mr. Schwarzenegger said. Firefighters faced thick, lingering smoke and flames that reached between 80- and 100-feet high, he said.


The two Los Angeles County firefighters died while fighting the fire on a road near Mt. Gleason, just south of Acton. Flames swept into a firefighting camp and as the men tried to retreat in a vehicle, it careened down a slope, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said.


The men, who were later identified as Arnaldo Quinones, 35, of Palmdale and Tedmund Hall, 47, of San Bernardino County, died from injuries suffered in the crash and from the advancing flames, the department said.


The fire, which began on Wednesday, was a half mile away Sunday night from a critical cluster of television, radio, and cell phone communication towers serving Los Angeles, as well as a historic astronomical observatory on Mount Wilson. A Web cam at the observatory broadcast dramatic still images of the burning forest before dawn Monday. Teams of firefighters used bulldozers to build fire breaks around the site, said Shane Rollman, a fire information officer for the United States Forest Service, who warned that communications in the city, including at Los Angeles International Airport, would be impaired if the towers were damaged.


The authorities ordered communities in Crown Valley, Soledad Canyon and Aliso Canyon to evacuate as the Station Fire moved closer. In Acton, a community of 3,000 on the north side of the San Gabriel Range, residents reported Saturday that ashes were falling from a black daytime sky, said Bruce Quintelier, another United States Forest Service fire information officer. Mr. Schwarzenegger said about 6,600 homes had been evacuated overall as a result of the Station Fire.


Last week, the governor declared states of emergency in Los Angeles and Monterey counties.


At least four evacuation centerswere opened for residents, and authorities also arranged special evacuation points for farmers to bring horses and other livestock from the danger zone. Small animals could be taken to La Canada High School in the West San Gabriel Valley, and horses could find safe haven at Pierce College in Woodland Hills or the Hansen Dam recreation area, the National Forest Service said.


About 2,800 firefighters worked to fight the flames, both by dumping water from helicopters and planes and by building fire breaks around the perimeter of the burn area. As of Sunday night, however, the fire ranged over 19 miles east to west, and almost 100 miles of fire break had yet to be built to keep the fire from spreading.


In foothills communities, about 150 fire trucks stood ready as a precaution to protect buildings. This fire is probably a week away from being fully contained, Mr. Quintelier said. Its just a long marathon sort of job that lies ahead.


Temperatures, which have been in the triple-digits in some inland Los Angeles areas, were slightly lower on Sunday, somewhat easing conditions. But a significant change in the hot, dry weather was not expected for several days. A saving grace for threatened communities, however, is that winds have remained low.


Four injuries have been reported. On Saturday, three people were severely burned in Big Tujunga Canyon after they failed to heed evacuation orders, the governor said, and on Friday one firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation. Smoke lingered over much of Los Angeles county, and people with respiratory difficulties, children and the elderly in affected areas were urged to stay indoors.


Other smaller fires were still burning on Sunday, including one measuring under a square mile called the 49er, which erupted around 3 p.m. near the intersection of Highway 49 and Quartz Drive in Auburn, in Placer County, fire officials said.


The 275-acre fire, whose cause was not yet determined, was 50-percent contained Sunday night and had had destroyed multiple houses and business. There were no immediate reports of injuries and homes in the expected path of the blaze were evacuated, fire officials said.


To the north, in the states coastal midsection, a 10-square mile fire near Pinnacles National Monument near the Monterey County town of Soledad was 90 percent contained by Sunday, was started by agricultural fireworks used to scare animals away from crops, The Associated Press reported. The fire destroyed one home and fire officials said they were confident the fire would be contained in the evening.


A state of emergency was declared Saturday for Mariposa County, where a 4,600-acre fire burned in Yosemite National Park. The blaze was 50 percent contained as of Sunday, park officials said.