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Brush Fires Burn; Threat Near Chemical Plant Ends

Major brush fires were still burning Saturday in Southern and Central California, while the chemical fire that forced evacuation of 2,200 Coachella residents earlier in the week was extinguished.

A 5,350-acre blaze near Palm Springs caused the closure of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to all but evacuees. A U.S. Forest Service official said the blaze was 40% contained, but because of erratic wind conditions they could not predict when it might be controlled. Spokesman Ron Lawson said 19 of the 922 firefighters on the fire lines have been injured during their three-day battle, which has cost $450,000.

In Kern County, 7,400 acres of brushland have been scorched in the mountainous Breckenridge area in Sequoia National Forest near Bakersfield. The blaze forced the evacuation of 32 summer cabins on Breckenridge Mountain.

A Forest Service Information officer said the fire was 95% contained and was expected to be controlled by Monday morning. More than 900 firefighters battled the blaze, and about 300 replacements arrived late Saturday from Arizona, New Mexico and Idaho.

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Three firefighters were reported injured in the blaze, which was not threatening the forest’s famous redwood trees.

In both blazes, officials complained that the fire-fighting effort was hampered by temperatures in excess of 100 degrees, high winds and rough terrain. There has been no damage to structures in either fire.

In Northern California, a wind-spread brush fire destroyed three homes and badly damaged six others in Lafayette. Damage in the Contra Costa County community was estimated at $2 million.

In Coachella, the Wilbur-Ellis Chemical Co. warehouse fire was extinguished at about 5 p.m. Saturday, after firefighters sprayed more than 3,000 gallons of foam on the ruins.

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Earl Tuntland of the Riverside County Health Department said 150 to 200 residents still being kept away from their homes as a precautionary measure would be allowed to return early Sunday morning.

About 25 tons of pesticides and fertilizers burned in the warehouse fire Wednesday, at one time spreading toxic smoke over 13 square miles in Coachella, Thermal and Mecca.

More than 200 people were treated by paramedics for nausea, sore throats and stinging eyes. Damage to the warehouse was estimated at $1.2 million.


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