Skip to main content
Advertising

Originally published April 30, 2014 at 4:31 PM | Page modified May 1, 2014 at 1:42 AM

  • Share:
           
  • Comments (0)
  • Print

A race against wind in California wildfire fight

Firefighters battling a smoky blaze in the foothills east of Los Angeles hoped to take advantage of a brief respite from the fierce, hot winds that initially pushed the fire into the path of more than 1,500 homes.




advertising

RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. —

Firefighters battling a smoky blaze in the foothills east of Los Angeles hoped to take advantage of a brief respite from the fierce, hot winds that initially pushed the fire into the path of more than 1,500 homes.

As the winds that had gusted to 80 mph on Wednesday eased up during the evening, mandatory evacuation orders for 1,650 once-endangered homes were canceled. The winds were forecast to return before dawn on Thursday, however, which prompted officials to order four high schools near the blaze to remain closed.

The fire erupted around 8 a.m. Wednesday in the foothills of the San Bernardino National Forest and quickly burned across 1,000 acres of brush. Although the U.S. Forest Service continued to cite that figure late Wednesday night, indicating the fire hadn't grown for several hours, no containment estimate was given either.

Meanwhile, more than 700 firefighters remained on the front lines, fighting the blaze with 55 fire engines and four bulldozers. High winds prevented them from using aircraft.

At their peak, the Santa Ana winds had gusted to 80 mph, with one gust recorded as high as 101 mph.

More of the same conditions were predicted for Thursday, accompanied by temperatures that forecasters said could top 100 degrees.

The National Weather Service issued a red-flag warning of extremely dangerous fire conditions for Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties until 8 p.m. Thursday.

As the flames raced through heavy brush on Wednesday, some of which last burned a decade ago, homes not even in the blaze's path were threatened.

A blaze fanned by gusts "tends to throw embers and brands ahead of itself, sometimes a mile," said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Chon Bribiescas. "That's the insidious part of a wind-driven fire."

That's why officials decided to keep Los Osos, Rancho Cucamonga, Alta Loma and Etiwanda high schools closed on Thursday.

At the fire's height Wednesday, seven schools were closed and parents scrambled to take their children away.

Francisco Aguilar, a Los Angeles city firefighter who lives in Rancho Cucamonga, picked up his 11-year-old daughter, Bella.

"It's like a madhouse in there," he told the San Bernardino Sun (http://bit.ly/1fzZX8Y ). "Parents are running around trying to grab their kids, and kids are covering their faces with tissue or their T-shirts."

Leo Lemelin, 67, and his family busily loaded several cars with belongings as they prepared to leave the area.

"We're trying to pack up everything we can into our cars from 45 years of marriage and eight grandchildren," he told the Riverside Press-Enterprise (http://bit.ly/1ftmqok).

Although the fire remained out of control, it had run out of fuel in some areas, while firefighters and bulldozers cut away brush in others, Bribiescas said.

The only structure reported burned was a fence.

The winds also fanned a handful of small brush fires around Southern California that were quickly doused without damage.

At one point, utilities reported about 8,000 people had lost power Wednesday because of wind-related problems such as downed power lines.

The fire erupted in the midst of a heat wave that has sent Southern California temperatures soaring into the 90s in some areas, with triple-digit highs predicted for Thursday.

On Wednesday, Los Angeles International Airport recorded a high of 87 degrees, breaking the record for the day of 86 that was set in 1996. At Long Beach Airport, the high of 92 broke a 1996 record by 2 degrees.

High temperatures were expected to continue through Saturday, with humidity in the single digits.



Want unlimited access to seattletimes.com? Subscribe now!

News where, when and how you want it

Email Icon


Advertising
The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited seattletimes.com access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►