September 29, 2005

Raging brush fires threaten L.A. area homes

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Thick smoke hung over much of Los
Angeles on Thursday as a wildfire burned out of control in the
Southern California foothills, threatening upscale suburban
neighborhoods as firefighters struggled to keep the flames from
racing to the sea.

The so-called Topanga fire charred more than 17,000 acres

of bone-dry brush but destroyed few homes as firefighters,
assisted by air crews, took advantage of a break from hot Santa
Ana winds to defend communities in its path.

"We didn't come to work this morning, we came to war," Los
Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey said.

Fire officials have been determined since the fire ignited
on Wednesday afternoon to keep the flames from crossing the
Hollywood Freeway, the last real barrier before it reaches the
sea near Malibu.

Between the freeway and the Pacific Ocean stood more dry
brush and a number of communities, some of them made up of
multimillion-dollar homes.

Officials conceded that while the improved weather had
slowed the progress of the blaze, some 3,000 firefighters were
nowhere close to containing it amid 100-degree F (38-degree
Celsius) temperatures at the end of Southern California's
notorious fire season.

Fire crews responded quickly when another brush fire was
spotted in the hills near the heavily populated Los Angeles
suburb of Burbank.

"We are aggressively trying to contain this thing before it
starts because of the weather conditions," Burbank Fire Lt.
David Gabriel said.

Hundreds of residents in at least nine communities were
ordered to evacuate or chose to leave their homes as flames
roared west and north along a 15-mile stretch of ridges and
canyons. The cause of the blaze was not known.

"We are guardedly optimistic, if the weather cooperates, if
the public cooperates ... that this may end well for us," Los
Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told reporters.

He said 2,000 homes and buildings had been saved by the
efforts of the firefighters.

About 20 schools in the area were closed on Thursday
because fire made the air hard to breathe. Some schools were
used as evacuation centers, which housed about 450 people

Officials urged residents to comply with evacuation
requests and prepare to leave their homes if necessary on short

Firefighting aircraft dropped water and fire retardants
through the night to prevent the fire from reaching more
heavily populated areas in the Simi Valley commuter belt, 35
miles north of downtown Los Angeles, and the mountains of
Malibu to the west.

One firefighter was injured on Wednesday when he was hit by
a falling rock. No other injuries have been reported.