Fri, Jul 23, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Fires spread in California

AP , Los Angeles

Los Angeles county workers on Wednesday survey a wooden bridge burned by the Crown wildfire in Acton, California.

PHOTO: EPA

A third major wildfire burning north of Los Angeles swelled to more than 3,200 hectares, threatening hundreds of homes on the edge of the Mojave Desert.

It was the third large fire in and around the Angeles National Forest and the latest in a series of blazes that have raged across California unusually early in the year.

"What we're experiencing here in Southern California is pretty much unprecedented," said Jody Noiron, forest supervisor for the Angeles National Forest, on Wednesday.

Six hundred homes were evacuated, county fire chief P. Michael Freeman said. Two homes and a bridge were destroyed on Tuesday.

Officials said the fire was just 20-percent contained after growing to more than 3,200 hectares in less than 24 hours.

More than 2,300 firefighters battled the blaze in dry brush and timber about 80km north of Los Angeles, county official Anthony Penn said.

The fire, propelled by winds gusting up to 40kph, was moving toward an area of scattered homes in three desert communities.

Firefighters were watching the flames closely because the area is thick with thousands of dead juniper and pine trees that were rav-aged by six years of drought and an infestation of bark beetles.

"We have things packed and ready to go," said Kathy Covington, whose home was in the path of the approaching flames. The cause of the fire was unknown.

Hot, dry weather has helped spread a series of Southern California fires in the past week. Threatened communities have so far avoided the large-scale loss of homes that occurred during wildfires last fall, but officials warned that the fire season is young.

Elsewhere, a 2,400-hectare fire near Santa Clarita was 95-percent contained, as was a 6,967-hectare fire near Lake Hughes that de-stroyed three homes and a dozen outbuildings. All evacuees had been allowed to return home.

Crews in Alaska were battling a 193,600-hectare fire on the out-skirts of Fairbanks. Heavy smoke hampered efforts to use airplanes to douse the flames and conditions were not expected to improve this week. The blaze was considered 20 percent contained.

Wildfires have already burned 1.44 million hectares in Alaska, which has been having one of its worst seasons in years.

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