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Wind-Fed Fires Break Out Across Southland

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Hampered by record-breaking heat, hundreds of Southern California firefighters parried numerous wind-lashed fires Saturday that destroyed or damaged at least 15 residences, blackened hundreds of acres, jammed traffic and forced the evacuation of residents and horses.

It was not immediately clear what triggered the fires, which began breaking out one after another at midday Saturday as stifling, triple-digit temperatures settled in on some Southland communities and downtown Los Angeles saw a 112-year-old heat record shattered.

An ornery blaze near the City of Industry kept 180 Los Angeles County firefighters at bay as it ripped through five homes, threatened numerous buildings and forced rescuers to escort horses from the area.

Los Angeles County Fire Department Battalion Chief Gene Wolf said it took 13 engines, five hand crews and three water-toting helicopters several hours to control the fire, which leveled four homes and damaged a fifth in a neighborhood known as Avocado Heights. The fire also charred at least five acres of brush in the area. No injuries were reported in the fire, or in any of Saturday’s other blazes.

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In Pomona, four residential structures were “destroyed or partially destroyed” by a brush fire near the intersection of Loma Vista and Val Vista streets, Wolf said. That blaze required 22 engine crews to rein it in, he said.

Near Temecula, a fast-moving wildfire marched out of control Saturday evening after it consumed or damaged six homes and prompted the evacuation of residents near the Pechanga Indian Reservation. Fed by warm, 25-mph winds, the fire also burned at least 1,250 acres and occupied more than 200 firefighters laboring under a sweltering, glistening sun.

To douse the obstinate flames, fire officials in Temecula deployed helicopters using giant scoops, dipping into the ponds of nearby golf courses. In addition, 23 engines, four bulldozers and six air tankers were scrambled to the scene.

Firefighters at work in the Elysian Park area of Los Angeles enjoyed better success.

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Brian Humphrey, a spokesman for the Los Angeles City Fire Department, said it took 135 city firefighters, aided by two Los Angeles County fire crews, two hours to extinguish a trio of brush fires that spread through nearly a dozen acres in rugged park terrain.

He said the fires were reported at 2:57 p.m. and the “key factor in gaining the upper hand was pinpoint precision water drops” from five Fire Department helicopters. That fire, too, had been fanned by steady inland winds, he said.

Although no buildings were damaged, Humphrey said, the “fire caused a traffic snarl on both the Golden State Freeway and the Pasadena Freeway as motorists craned their necks to watch.”

In fact, numerous area freeways backed up Saturday as tens of thousands of people headed to the beaches seeking relief from high temperatures.

Although crowd estimates were not immediately available, “it’s probably the most crowded day of the year,” said lifeguard Lt. Jon Moryl in Santa Monica. “Everyone knew when they woke up it was going to be hot. We’ve been busy since about 10 o’clock this morning.”

In Los Angeles, a temperature record that had stood since 1884 was broken when the temperature climbed to 98 degrees at the Civic Center. The previous high for the date was 94 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Temperatures in Burbank hit 101, said Curtis Brack, a meteorologist with WeatherData. The record there for the day is 103. Van Nuys checked in with 102 degrees, but it was not immediately known how close that was to being a record.

Meteorologists blamed the searing temperatures on a double high pressure system that positioned itself over a large portion of the Pacific Coast, trapping heat in the region like a giant oven. Unusually warm offshore winds that came from the desert and shooed away cooler sea breezes also boosted temperatures, experts said.

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Forecasters said today would bring more of the same--news that was not good for the region’s weary firefighters. As it was, fire crews were expected to be kept busy throughout the night, doing cleanup work and ensuring that there were no flare-ups.


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