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September 3, 2009

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Weather helps fight LA wildfires

FIREFIGHTERS made more progress yesterday against a giant wildfire that has ravaged a national forest north of Los Angeles, with another day of cooperative weather providing a big aid to beleaguered fire crews.
The blaze in the Angeles National Forest had burned nearly 567 square kilometers by early yesterday. Firefighters have created a perimeter around 22 percent of the blaze, largely by removing brush with bulldozers and setting controlled burns. Bulldozers still have 152 kilometers of fire breaks to build.
"The crews are making excellent progress based on the improved weather conditions," United States Forest Service incident commander Mike Dietrich said yesterday morning.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger planned to visit the fire area yesterday. Since erupting last Monday, the blaze has destroyed more than five dozen homes, killed two firefighters and forced thousands of people from their homes. The cause was still not known.
Officials also were keeping a close eye on the wind, which had been calm overnight but could pick up and move flames closer to homes and a historic observatory. Dietrich was not willing to say a corner had been turned.
Mount Wilson threat
In a hillside neighborhood of Glendale, Frank Virgallito said he saw deer, coyote and skunks scampering down his street away from the heat and ash of the smoldering wilderness.
Officials also worried about the threat to the historic observatory and TV, radio and other antennas on Mount Wilson northeast of Los Angeles. But on Tuesday, firefighters set backfires near the facilities before an air tanker made a huge water drop on flames.
By nightfall, 150 firefighters and engines were stationed at the peak to defend the towers, said fire spokesman Paul Lowenthal.
The flames crossed the Angeles Crest Highway into the San Gabriel Wilderness to the east on Tuesday, Fire spokesman Paul Lowenthal said. Firefighters made progress on fire breaks to the north near Acton and southwest from Altadena to the Sunland neighborhood.
Firefighters and longtime residents know it could be so much worse. Autumn is the season for the ferocious Santa Ana winds to sweep in from the northeastern deserts, gaining speed through narrow mountain canyons, sapping moisture from vegetation and pushing flames farther out into the suburbs.
"If we had Santa Anas, we still have all this open land here on the western flank, and islands of vegetation would throw embers into the air, which would blow down to the homes," fire spokesman Henry Martinez said.


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