October 12, 2008

Fire Burns 750 Acres in Angeles National Forest

Firefighters backed by water-dumping helicopters and planes gained ground Sunday on a wildfire that destroyed two homes and forced the evacuation of about 1,200 people in a rugged area 20 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.

Los Angeles County Fire Department spokesman Ron Haralson said the blaze charred up to 750 acres and also burned a garage, several sheds and three motor homes.

No one was seriously injured. A firefighter and one resident reported minor breathing problems.

Haralson said firefighters are "getting a really good handle" on the blaze that started about 2 a.m. Sunday. But powerful Santa Ana winds are expected to arrive in the evening, and gusts could spread embers igniting brush, grass and chaparral in the area.

"As long as there is active fire, which we still have, we are worried about the winds kicking up," said Haralson. A strong wind can carry embers up to a mile.

About 450 homes were evacuated early Sunday when the blaze threatened homes in the vicinity of Kagel and Lopez canyons.

"It burned right down to a couple of neighborhoods," said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Stanton Florea.

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The fire was burning south of the Wildlife Waystation, an animal sanctuary and rehabilitation facility set on 160 acres. The nonprofit agency houses more than 400 animals, including lions, bears and deer. Officials were loading up the animals in case the fire switched direction.

"They are packing them up in case they have to go," Dechert said.

A shelter for displaced residents was set up at a nearby recreation center. Horses and farm animals were evacuated to nearby Hansen Dam.

Firefighters were aided by cool temperatures overnight. Highs were expected Sunday in the 70s, then rising Monday and Tuesday.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

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