Catalina Island Fire Forces Evacuations

Friday's fire threatened Avalon, the main city on Catalina Island. Avalon has a population of about 3,200. Most of the island, which is home to various wildlife, is operated by the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy. Lindsay Mangum, NPR hide caption

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itoggle caption Lindsay Mangum, NPR

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A bright wall of orange flame threatened the town of Avalon on the California resort island of Santa Catalina early Friday morning, forcing people to flee the island and authorities to scramble for resources to fight the wildfire.

Several structures were destroyed during the night and firefighters were trying to make their stand against the fire at Avalon. But the island's location, 26 miles off the coast of Los Angeles, makes it difficult for officials to marshal the forces needed to battle the blaze. It was reportedly 10 percent contained Friday afternoon.

"The biggest challenge for fighting the fires on Catalina Island is getting the firefighters here," said Capt. Andrew Olvera of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. "And ... once we get here, it's [difficult] getting everybody in place, and dealing with the steep terrain, and the rocky terrain; that's also a big challenge for us."

The wildfires have burned more than 4,000 acres since starting Thursday afternoon.

Officials said they were waiting for daylight to break before resuming flights of helicopters that can drop fire retarding materials on the blaze. They also hoped that weather conditions would turn in their favor, bringing cool temperatures and calm air.

In the dark of Friday morning, flames crept over the west side of the sweeping hills surrounding the horseshoe-shaped town of Avalon. The 76-square-mile island is home to about 3,200 people, although that swells to as many as 10,000 people during the summer vacation season.

People evacuated the island by ferry as ash from the fire rained down on the island. Some 1,200 homes are under voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders. About 3,800 people had been evacuated Friday.

The Santa Catalina Island fire is the second major blaze to force evacuations in Southern California this week. An earlier fire in the heart of Los Angeles burned hundreds of acres in the city's sprawling Griffith Park.

Fire season for the region doesn't officially start until next month. But a lack of rain, hot weather and strong winds have created perfect conditions for wildfires. Santa Catalina, which normally receives 13 inches of rain annually, has recorded 2 inches of rain so far this year.

Written by Wright Bryan with reporting from Carrie Kahn and the Associated Press

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