Calif. firefighters battle blazes

LOS ANGELES - Wildfires erupted up and down California Thursday as a late summer siege of heat and low humidity levels made conditions ripe for conflagrations.

Structures could be seen burning in the wealthy communities on the Palos Verdes Peninsula south of Los Angeles, while suburbs on the foothills to the north of the city were threatened by a slumbering fire that suddenly roared to life in the evening hours.

Dozens of homes were evacuated in Rancho Palos Verdes, Los Angeles County fire Inspector Steve Zermeno said. TV news footage showed structures on fire and at least one entirely engulfed in flames. Fire officials could not confirm if any structures or homes had been damaged or destroyed.

In Monterey County, in the central coastal region of the state, 100 homes were evacuated about four miles from the community of Soledad. The fire had consumed more than 2,000 acres of steep grasslands, or more than 3 square miles, since it was reported Thursday afternoon, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Capt. James Dellamonica said.The blaze was zero percent contained.

The other major battles in Southern California were in the San Gabriel Mountains as firefighters struggled to keep flames from topping ridges and surging into a wider area of the sprawling Angeles National Forest northeast of downtown Los Angeles, where the temperature hit 99 degrees before noon.

The largest of two fires, which spread lung-burning haze over much of metropolitan Los Angeles, was 45 percent contained after burning across 1,850 acres, or nearly 3 square miles, said Capt. Jim Wilkins of the U.S. Forest Service.

Nearly 1,000 firefighters aided by bulldozers and a fleet of water- and fire retardant-dropping aircraft were concentrating on the fire's northeastern edge.

Wilkins said the area is so steep that "it's almost to the point where you need ropes" for firefighters to reach it.

The heat and very low humidity - which saps moisture from vegetation - were not helping.

"When you have all of those factors in alignment, it just burns explosively," Wilkins said.

On Wednesday, about 70 people were ordered evacuated from a trailer park and private campground along a fork of the San Gabriel River, Wilkins said.

The fire, believed caused by human action began Tuesday near a dam and reservoir in San Gabriel Canyon, a half-dozen miles above the city of Azusa.


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