Deadly California fire rages

September 1, 2009 12:00 am

, LOS ANGELES, Sep 1 – A deadly wildfire roared out of control above Los Angeles on Monday, killing two firefighters, forcing thousands to flee and threatening a crucial telecommunications facility.

The monster blaze raging in mountains north of the densely populated metropolis had ripped through 105,296 acres (42,612 hectares) of tinder-dry forest and was spreading north, northeast, east and northwest, authorities said.

An army of more than 3,655 firefighters was battling the blaze in the Angeles National Forest, which remained only five percent contained and sent a giant white mushroom cloud of smoke across the city.

The inferno was lapping Mount Wilson, threatening communications antennas belonging to numerous television and radio stations, cell phone providers and law enforcement agencies.

A squadron of aircraft, including eight air tankers and 13 helicopters, have been deployed to help bombard the blaze, although vast plumes of smoke were hampering the aerial attack, officials said.

As the fire showed no sign of easing, authorities revised an initial containment estimate of September 8, saying the blaze was now unlikely to be brought under control before September 15.

So far, more than 10,000 people have been evacuated from the fire, which has left two people dead and injured four others, including two people who attempted to ride out the blaze in an outdoor jacuzzi.

At least 53 structures — homes and cabins alike — have been destroyed, although that number was expected to grow, the Los Angeles Times reported. The fire broke out on August 26 and the cause remains under investigation.

The two fatalities were firefighters who died south of the town of Acton on Sunday when their vehicle veered off the road and rolled down a mountainside.

The fire was only one of several destructive blazes raging across California.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger toured the scene of a fire in Placer County, northeast of Sacramento that had charred 275 acres (110 hectares) of forest and gutted some 50 homes across the region.

Schwarzenegger urged any residents who received an evacuation order to flee immediately. "I think the key thing is when you hear from law enforcement, anything about evacuation, follow their orders," Schwarzenegger said.

His warning came as officials revealed they were trying to reach five people who ignored an evacuation order in the Los Angeles wildfire.

Los Angeles County Fire Captain Mark Savage told CNN no firefighters would be risked if conditions surrounding the trapped people were too dangerous.

"Our firefighters are watching very closely," Savage said. "If the situation becomes where we can get in there and get them out we will but we certainly won’t be endangering firefighters to make a rescue attempt at this point."

Later Monday, one of the five people reportedly trapped denied requesting assistance and said the group was not in danger.

"It’s been like this for four days, and if we were in immediate danger, we would get out immediately," Mark Underwood said.

The San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles has experienced record heat and low humidity, with temperatures soaring above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) in the hottest locations.

A key factor in the fires’ spread is that the areas most at risk are covered with vegetation that has not experienced fire for several decades, making it more susceptible to the blaze.

California is frequently hit by scorching wildfires due to its dry climate, winds and recent housing booms that have seen home construction spread rapidly into rural and densely forested areas.

In 2007, the state suffered some of the worst devastation from wildfires in its history that left eight people dead, gutted 2,000 homes, displaced 640,000 people and caused a billion dollars of damage.


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