1,500+ ordered to flee Calif. wildfires

LOS ANGELES - August 28, 2009 As many as 1,500 people had to leave the wealthy seaside community of Rancho Palos Verdes overnight, while residents of about 870 homes were urged to voluntarily leave La Canada Flintridge, a dozen miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles on the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Water-dropping helicopters worked through the night, as the ominous red glow of flames illuminated the darkness. A lack of wind let the helicopters operate in the canyons, Los Angeles County fire Inspector Steve Zermeno said.

"When the wind starts blowing through there, it picks up a lot of speed," he said. "Any gust of wind can blow them off course or cause them to lose control."

The Rancho Palos Verdes fire erupted late Thursday and spread rapidly, damaging three homes and several garages and outbuildings, but crews managed to keep it from expanding overnight, Capt. Mike Brown said.

The 100-acre blaze was 35 percent contained early Friday, Zermeno said.

The wealthy communities on the Palos Verdes Peninsula south of Los Angeles are in an area known for horse trails, spectacular Pacific Ocean views, pricey real estate and exclusive golf clubs, including the Trump National Golf Club owned by Donald Trump.

The Terranea Resort, a luxury hotel a couple miles from the fire, opened its door to locals who had to evacuate, but only two families had taken advantage of the offer by midnight, said hotel spokeswoman Wendy Haase.

The fire near La Canada Flintridge began to kick up late Thursday afternoon, a day after it began in the Angeles National Forest, and flames moved slowly down the slopes of the San Gabriels. By early Friday it was estimated to cover more than 2 square miles and was about 10 percent contained.

The fire jumped a highway overnight and moved near homes, said Jennifer Sanchez, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman.

Zermeno said the fire was being fought mainly from the air because the terrain was too steep for firefighters to reach it easily.

Still air meant the fire was growing slowly rather than being pushed, but "we'll see if nature is still on our side" later in the day, Zermeno said.

The National Weather Service predicted a third day of red flag conditions of extreme fire danger for many of California's central and southern mountain ranges because of because of low humidity and triple-digit heat that sapped moisture from grass and brush.

To the east, another fire in the San Gabriel Mountains was 60 percent contained late Thursday after burning across more than 3 square miles, Sanchez said.

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

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.

Farther north in Monterey County, 100 homes were evacuated about four miles from the community of Soledad. The fire burned more than 2,000 acres of steep grasslands, or more than 3 square miles, since it started Thursday afternoon, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Capt. James Dellamonica said. The blaze has not been contained.

To the west, in the San Bernardino National Forest in Riverside County, another fire had blackened about 1 1/2 square miles by Thursday evening and prompted authorities to issue a voluntary evacuation of 12 homes in the area near Hemet, said Forest Service fire spokeswoman Anabele Cornejo. She said about five people had left and that the fire was 5 percent contained.


Associated Press Writers Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco and Tracie Cone in Fresno contributed to this report.

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