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Two firefighters die in growing LA wildfire

THE five-day-old wildfire burning out of control in the Los Angeles foothills and forest claimed its first victims yesterday, two firefighters whose vehicle plummeted off the side of a road.

The fire scorched 7,000 more acres (2,832 hectares) since day break for a total burned area of 42,500 acres (17,199 hectares). The flames threaten 10,000 homes and are encroaching on the region's telecommunications nerve center. At least 18 homes have been destroyed.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger rushed back from Sen. Edward Kennedy's funeral to survey the state's worst fire, warning residents to heed evacuation orders for the "very dangerous" blaze.

Flames could be seen stretching 15 miles (24 km) above the heavily populated foothills, where an estimated 2,000 homes were under evacuation. Smoke mushroomed into huge clouds, some 20,000 feet high and visible from hundreds of miles away.

"What we have seen today was extreme fire behavior once again," Fire Commander Mike Dietrich said. "But there were excellent saves made in the foothill communities, some darn good firefighting."

The two dead firefighters were from Los Angeles County Fire and had been working deep in the Angeles National Forest Sunday afternoon when their vehicle careened down a slope.

At nightfall, firefighters focused on Mount Wilson, the site of transmission towers for television and radio broadcasters and emergency services. Planes dumped water in the area, but Dietrich said the fire could reach the towers late yesterday or early today.

More than 2,800 firefighters were on the ground, coming from as far away as Wyoming and Montana, trying to build more than 100 miles (160 km) of fire protection lines.

The fire that started on Wednesday above the exclusive community of La Canada Flintridge is only 5 percent contained and officials expected that, with hot temperatures and low humidity, it would grow larger. The cause of the fire is being investigated.


In the suburb of La Crescenta, 15 miles (25 km) north of downtown Los Angeles, the streets were deserted Sunday afternoon except for a few residents fleeing with their suitcases and other belongings on foot.

Brothers Vince and John Bollier looked out onto the mountains in front of their parents' house, where the fire had left only gray ash on the slopes.

"Last night was an inferno," said Vince Bollier. "It was close, but it wasn't life threatening, although a lot of people would have characterized it as dangerous."

Four other firefighters have been injured and three civilians have suffered burns, including two who were badly burned on Saturday after they tried to ride out the fire by sitting in a hot tub.

The saving grace in the Station fire has been the absence of high winds, but much of the brush in the area has not burned in 60 years, terrain is difficult to access and humidity is low.

Although the fire had spread, many homeowners who were evacuated Friday and Saturday returned yesterday, after an aerial assault with water and fire retardant saved their homes, many of them worth millions of dollars.

Utility Southern California Edison said the blaze has cut power to about 250 customers.

Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles County last week in response to four fires in the area.

Yesterday, he said, there were eight "huge" fires burning statewide. In total, 55,000 acres (22,257 hectares) have burned, he said.


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