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California wildfires: Better weather gives firefighters a chance

As night fell, improving weather in Southern California was giving firefighters a chance to keep wildfires away from homes.

By late Friday, firefighters had beaten back flames from an exclusive community of multimillion-dollar ranch homes in Ventura County, as well as neighborhoods in Glendale and an eastern Los Angeles County suburb.

After sunset, a cool, moist air was felt across the mountains, and in some locations, the blaze was reduced to hot spots. There was no wind.

In a sign of good news, the National Weather Service lifted its red-flag warnings Friday evening, saying that weather conditions were no longer ripe for wildfires. Cooler temperatures were expected for Saturday.

Inland areas should experience a 15- to 20-degree drop from Friday’s highs going into the weekend, said Bonnie Bartling, a weather specialist, and temperatures in coastal areas are expected to reach 70 degrees with a possible marine layer crawling over Los Angeles County on Saturday, Bartling said.

A more dramatic cooling should take place Sunday with temperatures dropping to the mid-60s with possible showers helping firefighters out.

The largest fire, the 28,000-acre Springs fire in Ventura County, had threatened thousands of homes and had taken a sudden, dangerous turn earlier Friday with a shift in winds. For a time Friday, flames came within 100 feet of luxury homes in the enclave of Hidden Valley, nestled in the mountains south of Thousand Oaks, many of which include horse stables. But an aggressive attack by firefighters kept the blaze away.

Firefighters remained on guard overnight, as only 20% of the Springs fire was surrounded. Crews said they would target overnight firefighting work on Yerba Buena Road.

"Barring unusual events, we do not expect to receive any new updates on the fire until tomorrow morning," the Ventura County Fire Department said in a statement.

Over the last two days of the Springs fire, 4,000 homes and 300 commercial properties have been threatened, and 15 residences, 15 outbuildings and five commercial properties have been damaged.

Record-breaking temperatures across California on Friday put the state in prime wildfire weather, exacerbated by an extremely dry winter. The mercury hit 96 in the Ventura County community of Camarillo on Friday, breaking the record set for the day in 2004.

Wildfires came close to homes in Glendale and the San Gabriel Valley suburb of Walnut on Friday afternoon, as reports of fires popped up almost simultaneously. But officials took control of those blazes within hours, and were able to drop a massive airborne attack, dumping water to douse the flames, and officials credit residents with clearing flammable brush away from their homes.

The Glendale brush fire broke out at 2:29 p.m., near the 134 and 2 freeways, and moved east, with embers blowing across the roadway. Flames lapped close to the road and near some homes along Chevy Chase Canyon, and officials ordered evacuations of some homes.

"We hit it quickly," Glendale spokesman Tom Lorenz said of the 75-acre fire.

He said the city was prepared for a wildfire because of the recent blaze in Monrovia, recent high winds and scorching temperatures, and said canyon residents did their part by clearing brush from their homes.

Glendale Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said two firefighters who were not with the Glendale Fire Department suffered heat exhaustion and were being treated. He wouldn't say which department they were with.

Scoggins says crews are "doing a great job" and will be out "quite a while tonight" to make sure the area is safe. He said there are boots on the ground and hand crews are hiking uphill. "Just because it gets dark doesn't mean we stop working,” he said.

Scoggins said people living in the Los Angeles area should cut their brush back, clear dead wood and trim their trees from their homes to make any firefighting easier.

The cause of the Glendale fire was still under investigation.

Crews also made quick work of a five-acre brush fire in the San Gabriel Valley suburb of Walnut, where the blaze broke out at 3:50 p.m. near the 600 block of North Silver Valley Trail. It was knocked down about an hour later.

"We sent the world," said Los Angeles County fire inspector Quvondo Johnson. "We've got approximately 200 firefighters -- air, ground, the whole works. ... We didn't play."

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection also made quick work on a pair of fires in San Bernardino and San Diego counties.

But much of the attention was focused on several Ventura County communities, where a fast-moving brush fire erupted on Thursday off the southbound 101 and flew across the Camarillo landscape, heading to Point Mugu State Park toward the ocean.

Bad news returned on Friday, when a harrowing shift in the winds directed the fire back inland, placing some homes that had escaped the first wave of flames again in the fire's path.

Sue Martin and Coleman Trainor thought the danger had passed Shelburne Farm on Portrero Road, but then they noticed the winds change. When the neighboring ranch began evacuating animals about 2 p.m., they decided they should start to make plans for the 20 horses stabled on their own property.

They worried how they would transport so many animals -- but then the trailers starting rolling in. Complete strangers showed up at the ranch, offering their help.

“This is our third load,” said Lisa Riley, who helped take the horses to a Moorpark equestrian center. “We do this for them because they need the help, and I’m sure they’d do it for us.”

Trainor, who is from Virginia, had never seen a wildfire before. “It’s been really exciting to see the collaboration and assistance from people we don’t even know,” he said. “All of that has helped contribute to a successful evacuation. And now we’ve gotta go.”

Residents hurried to pack cars and evacuate animals as the fire again moved toward their homes. In the Rancho Sierra Vista area, helicopters hurried to drop water on a burning ridge as neighbors in the nearby Banyan neighborhood readied to leave.

Laurie Deremer, 58, looked at the flames and smoke peeking over the ridge. "Well, this looks a little ominous here," she said.

A neighbor, Bobbie Quigley, had already loaded her car with a small filing cabinet full of pictures and a safe with documents and address books. A pile of blankets sat next to her car and she readied to pack more valuables.

Quigley, 71, said she could hear people driving up Potrero Road behind her house all night to get a glimpse of the fires. People also sat on her back wall to get a better look.

She could barely sleep, she said, but finally caught some rest about 4 a.m. When she woke up at 6 a.m., she said, "it was all very calm."

The evacuation orders came hours later.

Shari Bernath didn't leave her ranch off Mipolomoi Road, despite orders Thursday night and Friday to evacuate. The flames climbed the mountain toward her home, eventually reaching one of her barns and creeping within 100 yards of her home.

By about 3 p.m., the flames were in the distance and the view was replaced with the gray and black smoke of a danger that had moved elsewhere.

"There's a lot of relief," Bernath said. "We could still burn. But there's a lot of relief."

ALSO:

California wildfires: A battle to save Hidden Valley

Glendale fire nearly knocked down; Walnut fire out

California wildfires: 28,000 acres burned in Ventura County

matt.stevens@latimes.com

hailey.branson@latimes.com

dalina.castellanos@latimes.com

Times staff writers Wally Skalij, Christine Mai-Duc, Catherine Saillant, Kate Mather, Joseph Serna, Samantha Schaefer and Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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