NPR logo California Battles Quick-Spreading Wildfires


California Battles Quick-Spreading Wildfires

Firefighters mop up along a ridge near Mount Wilson during the Station Fire in the Angeles National Forest near Los Angeles on Monday. Jae C. Hong/AP hide caption

Photo Gallery: California Wildfires
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Jae C. Hong/AP

A wildfire continued to burn out of control in the Angeles National Forest on Monday, doubling in size overnight and devouring more than 85,000 acres as it raced toward a communications complex and threatened a historic observatory.

The number of acres burning jumped from 42,000 on Sunday to 85,700 by Monday morning, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said on its Web site. With more than 2,500 firefighters on the ground, the fires are still only 5 percent contained.

The largest of the eight blazes burning across the state was near Los Angeles, where at least 21 homes had been gutted and 12,000 others were being threatened. Another fire northeast of Sacramento burned more than 60 homes and other buildings near the town of Auburn. In San Bernardino County, a 900-acre fire has forced the evacuation of Oak Glen and threatens 2,000 homes.

Other Dangers Remain

CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant said firefighters have stopped the progression of the flames that charred the area near Auburn, but other dangers abound. Authorities urged evacuees to remain in a shelter at a local church for the time being.

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Los Angeles County Fire Department, Google Maps

"Displaced residents are staying there until we can get rid of all the hazards that exist — the fire activity, downed power lines and gas leaks," Berlant said.

On Mount Wilson, the University of California at Los Angeles' tower camera showed the observatory shrouded in heavy, gray smoke. A posting on the observatory's Web site said there was little fire activity in the immediate vicinity just before 8 a.m. PDT, and fire crews had been instructed to withdraw.

"They [firefighters] are still within close proximity for redeployment, thus, the good news is that the fire in the observatory's vicinity seems to have diminished. The bad news is that there are no firefighters presently on the scene," a post on the observatory's Web site said.

Two Firefighters Killed

As firefighters tried to get the blazes under control, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger noted the sacrifices made by two firefighters who were killed in the line of duty on Sunday.

A United States Forest Service air tanker drops fire retardant next to a line of fire in Acton, Calif. on Sunday. Dan Steinberg/AP hide caption

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Dan Steinberg/AP

A United States Forest Service air tanker drops fire retardant next to a line of fire in Acton, Calif. on Sunday.

Dan Steinberg/AP

"Our hearts are heavy as we are tragically reminded of the sacrifices our firefighters and their families make daily to keep us safe," he said in a prepared statement.

Fire Capt. Tedmund Hall, 47, and firefighter Spc. Arnaldo "Arnie" Quinones, 35, were killed when their vehicle rolled down a mountain near the town of Acton on Sunday, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said in a statement.

The fire has raged since Wednesday, when it broke out near a ranger station. Dry vegetation and triple-digit temperatures have fueled the fire, causing it to spread quickly.

Containment Not Near

Thousands of people have since been evacuated, but a few remained and were overtaken by the flames, including two people who were critically burned while they tried to hide in their backyard hot tub. The wildfire was threatening to destroy more houses, as well as transmitters for many radio and television stations that broadcast to Los Angeles.

"Local law enforcement uses those radio signals. FBI, LAX [Los Angeles International Airport] uses those communications towers, so it could be a little bit of a problem if those towers go out," said Shane Rollman, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman.

An enormous mushroom-shaped cloud of smoke and vapor covered the area much of the weekend, and people across the region were fighting to breathe through the smoke and ash.

Officials said they might not be able to contain the fire until Sept. 8. Early Monday morning, the department said the fire was only 5 percent contained. Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency in Placer, Monterey, Los Angeles and Mariposa counties.

With reporting by NPR, member stations KQED and Capital Public Radio and wire services

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