Firefighters battle to contain wildfire before winds return

LAKE ELSINORE, Calif. Device turned the hills red with fire retardant as home owners wet their houses with garden hoses in a battle to contain an arson wildfire that prompted evacuation orders for more than 20,000 people south of Los Angeles.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Thursday night for Orange and Riverside counties as a four-day-old fire cut its way along mountain ridges and hills of the Cleveland National Forest.

Brown’s proclamation said thousands of homes were threatened by the fire in the foothills above Lake Elsinore and nearby communities, and ordered the government to help the local authorities.

Firefighters plan to have the night to gain ground against the blaze for the expected Friday afternoon return from the stormy wind would drive the flames new cruelty.

A resident of Holy Jim Canyon in the forest was scheduled for a hearing Friday on charges that he deliberately set the fire.

Forrest Clark, 51, is charged with arson and other crimes and could face life in prison if convicted. It was not immediately known if he had a lawyer.

Michael Milligan, head of the Holy Jim Volunteer Fire department, told the Orange County Register that Clark had a ten-year-long fight with the neighbors and sent him threatening e-mails from last week, including one that said: “this place will burn.” Ironically, his cabin was the only one in the canyon to survive, the flames, the newspaper.

As the fire raged closer to the foot of homes on Thursday, some residents ignoring evacuation orders stood in driveways or on top of roofs and used garden hoses to wet their property as smoke billowed around them.

Joe Rodriguez, 38, used a pressure washer on his terrace in the McVicker Canyon Park neighborhood.

“Until this thing is barking at my door, I’m going to stick with it,” he told the San Bernardino Sun.

Firefighters fought a desperate battle as the huge flames came within metres of some houses, feeding on dense, dry chaparral and powered by a 20-mph (30-kph) gusts of wind. They want to surround the fire before it could devour neighborhoods and takes life, as a gigantic forest fires still burning in Northern California have done.

“Our main focus this afternoon was to get everyone out safely,” said Thanh Nguyen, a spokesman for the crews battling the Sacred Fire.

Phil Williams, 57, remained in near his home in the Brookstone Ranch, a community of about 5,000 people. His family and pets have been evacuated along with most of his neighbors, but as a member of the local water district, he stayed in to help.

Late Thursday night, he described 70 feet tall (21-meter) flames crawl within 150 metres from its large garden.

“It’s all tinder and as soon as the flames hit, it’s gone,” he said. “You hear the fire come. It really does roar. “

Williams, who had to cut down brush around the house, said he was planning to “wait for the sun, see what there about. Not much more than you can do.”

“If I’m not a good enough job, I’ll just rebuild,” he said. “It is only sticks.”

Although the fire — named after the canyon where it started — was a dozen cabins after the outbreak Monday, firefighters were able to prevent further losses, but the fire was still virtually uncontrolled growth destroyed for progress control.

The wind speed and the temperature dropped as night fell, but strong winds could pick up again Friday afternoon, the National Weather Service warned.

Meanwhile, two large fires — the name of the Mendocino Complex Fire is the largest in the history of California were burning more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Sacramento.

Crews reaches a tipping point and is 51 percent containment of the Mendocino Complex — actually the twin fires that are fought each other. The fire destroyed more than 100 houses and has black an area the size of the city of Los Angeles.

In the Rescue environment, the year of the deadly fire was nearly half surrounded and burning in remote and rugged forest, grass, shrubs, and trees are so dry from years of drought and recent heat that the potential remained for the fire to grow, fire officials said.

The Carr Fire, as it is called, killed six people, including two firefighters and burned more than 1,000 homes. Two other people — one is on fire heavy equipment mechanic assigned to the fire, and a utility worker trying to restore power in the area of the fire were killed in a car accident.

The burning grew explosively in the past two weeks in the wind whipped the flames through the forest and countryside, full of wood and brush that is bone-dry from years of drought and a summer of record-breaking heat.

Air quality is another victim of the fire. A smoky haze stretches from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains to Sacramento and hovers over the San Francisco Bay Area, with most of the major population centers in between the suffering of the ambient air quality that is dangerous for children, the elderly and people with asthma or other respiratory conditions.

The smoke drifted even as far east as Salt Lake City in Utah.

The size of the fire is established in a member state, which is still reeling from the massive burning of last year and has not yet touched are historically the most dangerous months.

Firefighters had nearly contained a large fire near Yosemite National Park.


Amanda Myers reported from Los Angeles. AP journalists Michael Balsamo and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

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