Sat, Aug 11, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Firefighters race to put out arson fire in California


Resident Moe Blythe, left, on Thursday wears a makeshift mask to protect himself from smoke as he watches the Holy Fire burn near homes in Corona, California. The fire continued to grow amid a heat wave and had burned 4,142 hectares while remaining just 5 percent contained.

Photo: AFP

Aircraft turned hillsides red with retardant as homeowners wet their houses with garden hoses in a battle to contain an arson wildfire that prompted evacuation orders for more than 20,000 people south of Los Angeles.

California Governor Jerry Brown on Thursday night declared a state of emergency for Orange and Riverside counties as a four-day-old fire carved its way along ridges and hillsides of the Cleveland National Forest.

Brown’s proclamation said that thousands of homes were threatened by the fire in the foothills above Lake Elsinore and nearby communities, and ordered state agencies to help local governments.

Firefighters planned to work through the night to gain ground against the blaze before the expected return yesterday afternoon of blustery winds that might drive the flames to new ferocity.

A resident of Holy Jim Canyon in the forest was scheduled for a court hearing yesterday on charges that he deliberately set the fire.

Forrest Clark, 51, is charged with arson and other crimes and could face life in prison if convicted. It was not immediately known if he had a lawyer.

Holy Jim Volunteer Fire Department Chief Michael Milligan told the Orange County Register newspaper that Clark had a decade-long feud with neighbors and sent him threatening e-mails last week, including one that said, “this place will burn.”

Ironically, his cabin was the only one in the canyon to survive the flames, the newspaper reported.

As flames raged closer to foothill homes on Thursday, some residents ignoring evacuation orders stood in driveways or on top of roofs and used garden hoses to wet down their property as smoke billowed around them.

Joe Rodriguez, 38, used a power washer on his patio in the McVicker Canyon Park neighborhood.

“Until this thing is barking at my door, I’m going to stick with it,” he told the San Bernardino Sun newspaper.

Firefighters fought a desperate battle as huge flames came within meters of some homes, feeding on dense, dry chaparral and propelled by 30kph gusts. They want to encircle the fire before it can devour neighborhoods and take lives, as gigantic fires still burning in northern California have done.

“Our main focus this afternoon was getting everyone out safely,” said Thanh Nguyen, a spokesman for the crews battling wat has been dubbed the Holy Fire.

Although the fire — named for the canyon where it started — destroyed a dozen cabins after breaking out on Monday, fire crews were able to prevent further losses, but the fire was still virtually uncontrolled as its growth nullified progress in corralling it.

Wind speeds and temperatures dropped as night fell, but gusty winds could pick up again yesterday afternoon, the US National Weather Service warned.

Meanwhile, two major wildfires — including one called the Mendocino Complex Fire, which is the largest in California history — were burning more than 160km north of Sacramento.

Crews turned a corner and achieved 51 percent containment of the Mendocino Complex — twin fires that are being fought together. The fire destroyed more than 100 homes and has blackened an area about the size of the city of Los Angeles.

In the Redding area, the year’s deadliest fire was nearly half surrounded and was burning into remote and rugged forest land, but grass, brush and trees there are so dry from years of drought and recent heat that the potential remained for the fire to grow, state fire officials said.

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