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August 29, 2009

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Wildfires threaten elite LA zone

WILDFIRES threatened hundreds of homes in the seaside hills and foothill canyons near Los Angeles early yesterday, feeding on bone-dry brush in the midst of a heat wave.

As many as 1,500 people had to leave the wealthy seaside community of Rancho Palos Verdes overnight, while residents of about 870 homes were urged to voluntarily leave La Canada Flintridge, 20 kilometers northeast of downtown Los Angeles on the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Water-dropping helicopters worked through the night, as the ominous red glow of flames illuminated the darkness. A lack of wind let the helicopters operate in the canyons, Los Angeles County fire Inspector Steve Zermeno said.

"When the wind starts blowing through there, it picks up a lot of speed," he said. "Any gust of wind can blow them off course or cause them to lose control."

The Rancho Palos Verdes fire erupted late on Thursday and spread rapidly, damaging three homes and several garages and outbuildings, but crews managed to keep it from expanding overnight, Captain Mike Brown said.

The 40-hectare blaze was 35 percent contained yesterday, Zermeno said.

The communities on the Palos Verdes Peninsula south of Los Angeles are in an area known for horse trails, spectacular Pacific Ocean views, pricey real estate and exclusive golf clubs, including the Trump National Golf Club owned by Donald Trump.

The Terranea Resort, a luxury hotel a couple of kilometers from the fire, opened its door to locals who had to evacuate, but only two families had taken advantage of the offer by midnight, said hotel spokeswoman Wendy Haase.

The fire near La Canada Flintridge began to kick up late Thursday afternoon, a day after it began in the Angeles National Forest, and flames moved slowly down the slopes of the San Gabriels. By early yesterday it was estimated to cover more than 5.2 square kilometers.

The fire jumped a highway overnight and moved near homes, said Jennifer Sanchez, a United States Forest Service spokeswoman.


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