Thu, Sep 24, 2009 - Page 7 News List

California wildfire rages on, burning thousands of hectares in Ventura hills

BATTLE CONTINUES The fire was 94 percent surrounded on Tuesday, but fire commanders again pushed back the projected date for full containment, this time to today


A wildfire in the US stoked by the notoriously hot and dry Santa Ana winds has burned about 3,440 hectares in the hills of Ventura County, where airtankers, including a DC-10 jumbo jet and big helitankers, have bombarded flames with retardant and water.

Fire crews also have been working on the ground to battle the blaze, and two minor injuries to firefighters have been reported.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency for the county, freeing up state resources to battle the fire, which was one of several burning in Southern California on Tuesday.

While an unknown number of evacuations were lifted late on Tuesday in two neighborhoods, numerous homes remained threatened and evacuation orders remain in effect, county fire spokesman Bill Nash said. At least one small building was seen ablaze.

“Don’t wait for an evacuation order if you feel like you’re in danger,” Fire Captain Ron Oatman said.

The forecast for yesterday called for more scorching temperatures, low humidity and weak to moderate Santa Ana winds, which blow from the northeast, speeding up and warming as they descend through mountain passes and canyons and push seaward. The air is extremely dry, lowering humidity levels and making brush easier to burn.

City spokesman Hugh Riley said the water district authorized avocado growers to turn on irrigation sprinklers in their orchards.

He said on Tuesday that the fire was following the path of a blaze several years ago.

“That was a big one and fortunately it burned a lot of the fuel that could feed this one,” he said.

Some smaller wildfires broke out on Tuesday as weather turned the region into a tinder box.

A blaze that ignited in Riverside County, 65km east of Los Angeles, burned 65 hectares. It was about 60 percent contained and no homes had been lost.

Winds also caused some increased fire activity on ridgetops in the San Gabriels, where a gigantic arson-caused wildfire continues to smolder a month after it began. But a haze was caused by ash whipped up by the Santa Anas, US Forest Service spokeswoman Carol Underhills said.

The fire burned across more than 65,000 hectares of Angeles National Forest after it was ignited on Aug. 26.

At its peak it destroyed 89 homes and caused two firefighter deaths.

The fire remained 94 percent surrounded on Tuesday and fire commanders again pushed back the projected date for full containment, this time from Tuesday evening to today because of the weather.

The weather service also issued “red flag” warnings of fire weather conditions in other parts of California because of a combination of low humidity, high temperatures and wind.

Those areas included the hills east of San Francisco Bay and mountains to the north, the northern Sierra and northern Sacramento Valley and a large swath of the state farther north.

A 120 hectare wildfire burning in a heavily wooded area of Sonoma County near Geyserville was expected to be contained yesterday morning.

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