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Calif. firefighters wage fierce wildfire battles

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[August 29, 2009]  LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A wildfire that exploded in the mountains north of Los Angeles has spread over nearly 8 square miles of bone-dry forest, sent up massive billows of smoke and cast an eerie orange glow against the night sky.

RestaurantThe blaze in the steep San Gabriel Mountains above La Canada Flintridge spread out in all directions Friday, the most active flanks to the north, deeper into the forest and east, said Forest Service spokesman Stanton Florea. The fire was creeping slowly toward the city of Altadena, but no homes were immediately threatened Friday evening, Florea said. It was zero percent contained.

A major goal was to keep the fire from spreading up Mount Wilson, where many of the region's broadcast and communications antennas and the historic Mount Wilson Observatory are located, officials said.

Authorities issued a mandatory evacuation notice early Saturday morning for many residents with homes located within a half-square-mile area and on the slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains. An evacuation center was set up at La Canada High School.


With hundreds of homes in La Canada Flintridge evacuated, hundreds more residents were packed and ready to move on a moment's notice.

"We're boxed up and ready to go," said La Canada Flintridge resident Steve Buntich, watching helicopters line up to siphon water from a golf course reservoir. He said his wife and children had evacuated to a friend's house for several hours, but had since returned home.

Firefighters made good progress Friday against a fire on the Palos Verdes Peninsula fire that roared to life on the south Los Angeles County coast Thursday night. As many as 1,500 people were forced to flee at the height of the fire, but calm, windless conditions allowed water-dropping helicopters to extinguish much of the fire. It was 90 percent contained, late Friday, officials said. Six homes received minor exterior damage, and the only structures destroyed were an outbuilding and gazebo. No injuries were reported.

Elsewhere in the Angeles National Forest, more than 1,600 firefighters working in 102-degree heat had achieved 85 percent containment of a 3.3-square-mile blaze in a canyon above the city of Azusa. No structures were threatened or damaged

"We're getting a handle on it. It's just taking a little longer than expected," said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Rachel Mailo.

To the north in the state's coastal midsection, a nearly 8-square-mile fire threatening Pinnacles National Monument kept 100 homes under evacuation orders near the Monterey County town of Soledad. The blaze, only 15 percent contained, was started by agricultural fireworks used to scare animals away from crops.

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In the southern part of Monterey County, firefighters had 100 percent containment of a 5 1/4-square-mile fire that had threatened 20 ranch homes.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency Friday in Los Angeles and Monterey counties.

"It's fire season, clearly," he said. "There's tremendous amount of heat all over the state."

A nearly 3 1/2-square-mile fire in Yosemite National Park was 10 percent contained, said staff member Erik Skinrud.

The Mariposa County Sheriff's Office ordered guests and staff at the Yosemite View Lodge, just outside the park's western gate, to evacuate Friday afternoon due to the fire. People without lodging were offered beds in a shelter in Mariposa staffed by the Red Cross.

Residents of the nearby community of El Portal watched as water-dropping helicopters refilled from the Merced River.

Park spokeswoman Kari Cobb said officials closed a campground and a portion of Highway 120, anticipating that the fire would spread north toward Tioga Road, the highest elevation route through the Sierra. The number of firefighters was expected to double over the weekend to 1,000.


Southeast of Los Angeles in Riverside County, a 1 1/2-square-mile fire in the San Bernardino National Forest was 5 percent contained. Temperatures reached 106 degrees in the region.

In San Diego County, three fires totaling 1,000 acres burned on the Camp Pendleton Marine base but posed no threat to buildings, Cpl. Gabriela Gonzalez said.


Associated Press Writers Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco, Garance Burke and Tracie Cone in Fresno and Solvej Schou in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

[Associated Press; By CHRISTINA HOAG]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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