Wildfires Rage in California, 12,000 Homes in Los Angeles Threatened
31 August 2009
At least eight large wildfires are raging in California. The largest is in Los Angeles, where a massive blaze in the Angeles National Forest, north of the city, is threatening suburban communities. That fire has scorched more than 34,000 hectares and destroyed at least 21 homes. More than 6,000 households have been ordered to evacuate, several people have been injured and two firefighters have died.
|A firefighter watches a wildfire burn in La Canada Flintridge, California, 31 Aug 2009|
The massive Los Angeles fire nearly doubled in size from Sunday night to Monday morning, when firefighters resumed their attack from the ground and air.
More than 20 helicopters and air tankers are dropping water and fire retardant, and two Canadian "super scoopers" - giant aircraft that scoop up water from reservoirs and drop it on the flames - are being readied for service.
On Monday, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in four California counties - including Los Angeles County.
|California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, 31 Aug 2009|
"Fires are burning from the north - the northern border of California - all the way south, and from the Pacific Ocean to the Sierra Nevada [mountain range]," said Arnold Schwarzenegger. "We have fires everywhere. We have eight large fires around the state of California right now. But the firefighters have fanned out across California and they're doing an amazing job."
Winds have been light. But firefighters have faced hot, dry weather and billowing smoke that restricts visibility.
More than 6,000 households are under mandatory evacuation orders. Some people fought to protect their property as the flames approached, creating wind gusts.
FIRST RESIDENT: "I couldn't face the flames. It was so hot."
SECOND RESIDENT: "I got out from the roof. I couldn't handle it any more. It was so windy and all the heat came to my face, I couldn't handle it any more."
The fire turned deadly on Sunday when two firefighters lost control of their vehicle on a mountain road and died.
Deputy Fire Chief Mike Bryant says the loss was hard on the tight-knit crew.
|US Forest Service air tanker drops fire retardant next to a line of fire in the hills above Altadena, California, 29 Aug 2009|
"This accident is tragic," said Mike Bryant. "This is a very difficult time for the Los Angeles County Fire Department and the men and women that serve day in, day out."
The fire began in the San Gabriel Mountains on Wednesday afternoon, and by Friday, threatened the foothill community of La Canada Flintridge. It then spread to the west and east. On Sunday, communities north of the mountains, including Acton, were threatened.
On Mt. Wilson, north of Los Angeles, crucial communications facilities are at risk, including the transmitters for the city's major television stations. The telescopes of the historic Mount Wilson Observatory are also threatened.
More than 2,500 firefighters are battling the huge blaze. The fire was only five percent contained by Monday and firefighters worry that gusting winds will fan the flames.
The Los Angeles blaze is the largest of many burning around the state. A fire northeast of the state capital, Sacramento, has scorched 60 structures, many of them houses in the town of Auburn.