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Thousands Evacuate as Calif. Fires Spread

BY Online DA  August 31, 2009 at 5:22 PM EST

A Los Angeles County firefighter prepares to hose down hot spots; Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The blaze, called the Station Fire, spread in all directions Sunday night leading into Monday, threatening some 12,500 homes in the San Gabriel foothills and along the Angeles National Forest border, reported the Los Angeles Times.

Times reporter Jessica Garrison describes the scene of the wildfire near Acton, Calif.:

Fanned by dry brush and triple-digit weather, the Station Fire is about five percent contained as of Monday morning and is the largest of several fires burning southern and central California, including a 4,600-acre fire in Yosemite National Park, officials said.

Inspector Edward Osorio of the Los Angeles County Fire Department estimated property damage is over $7.5 million and rising. Last week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles and Monterey counties and on Saturday he declared another state of emergency in Mariposa County for the Yosemite fire.

“Fires are burning from the north, the northern border of California, all the way south, and from the Pacific Ocean all the way to the Sierra Nevada,” Schwarzenegger said in Los Angeles Monday afternoon. “There are fires everywhere.”

On Sunday, two firefighters died when flames swept into a firefighting camp near Mt. Gleason. As the men tried to retreat from the incoming inferno, their vehicle careened down a slope. Arnaldo Quinones, 35, of Palmdale and Tedmund Hall, 47, of San Bernardino County, died from injuries sustained in the crash.

“The accident is tragic,” said Los Angeles County Deputy Fire Chief Mike Bryant. “This is a very difficult time for the L.A. County Fire Department and the men and women that serve day in, day out.”

How Station Fire Compares to Largest Calif. Wildfires

The raging fire is also threatening a major communications center and a historic observatory perched high on Mount Wilson. U.S. Forest officials warned that communications in the city, including at Los Angeles International Airport, could be impaired if the cluster of television, radio and cell phone towers are damaged.

Authorities ordered communities in Crown Valley, Soledad Canyon and Aliso Canyon to evacuate as the flames moved closer. Gov. Schwarzenegger said on Saturday that about 6,600 homes had already been evacuated, but that number is expected to grow.

More than 2,800 firefighters from around the state have descended upon Southern California, accompanied by 12 helicopters and eight air tankers. Last month, Gov. Schwarzenegger signed a state budget that canceled a contract for the DC-10 jet, the largest firefighting tool in the state’s arsenal, to save taxpayers about $7 million, the Los Angeles Times reported. But after several fires pummeled the region in August, lawmakers reversed the decision and signed a 90-day contract for one jet, which costs taxpayers $43,404 a day, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Smaller fires continued to burn Monday, including a one measuring under a square mile called the 49er, and a 275-acre fire, which was 50 percent contained Monday morning. A 10-square mile fire near Pinnacles National Monument along the coast of central California was 100 percent contained as of Monday morning. The fire, which was caused by agricultural fireworks used to scare away animals, destroyed one home and one outbuilding, the Associated Press reported.