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California fires rage from San Bernardino Mountains to Reagan Library, as wine country gets reprieve

Firefighters mop up wreckage of a home destroyed by the Hillside fire Oct. 31 in San Bernardino.
Firefighters mop up wreckage of a home destroyed by the Hillside fire Oct. 31 in San Bernardino.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

The Hillside fire was burning near the San Bernardino National Forest and quickly spread into neighborhoods early Thursday, consuming at least 200 acres and burning homes as authorities rushed to evacuate sleeping residents. Embers flew onto residential streets, igniting palm trees and setting homes ablaze.

Another fire in Jurupa Valley near Riverside had burned several structures, causing evacuations.

The biggest firefight was in Ventura County, where 1,000 firefighters trying to control the wind-driven Easy fire that surrounded the Reagan Library were stymied by intense gusts that sent embers flying far beyond the body of the blaze. As the fire burned Wednesday, helicopters repeatedly dropped loads of water around the Reagan complex, which is perched atop a hill blanketed in dense brush, amid 60-mph winds that were strong enough to knock a person off balance.

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Firefighters credited an intense surge in pre-deployed firefighting resources to preventing the fire so far from destroying homes.

Officials say the preparations for the winds this time have given them a fighting chance that they didn’t have last year, when the Woolsey fire — one of California’s most destructive on record — burned more than 1,000 homes and resulted in three deaths. Officials have said the battle against that fire was hampered by a lack of resources.

Legislation passed in Sacramento, first signed by Gov. Jerry Brown and then made permanent under Gov. Gavin Newsom, has allocated millions of dollars to pre-position firefighting resources during severe fire weather. As a result, on Wednesday, after the weather service’s extreme fire weather warning, a lot more firefighters were prepared to tackle the fire that bounded toward the presidential library, a repository of records and artifacts from the Reagan administration, Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said.

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Southern California Edison confirmed Wednesday evening that the Easy fire, which has burned 1,650 acres, broke out in its service territory near one of its sub-transmission lines, which was not de-energized at the time of ignition. The utility has notified the California Public Utilities Commission that there was activity on the sub-transmission line around the reported time of the fire, spokesman Robert Villegas said.

Other smaller fires erupted in communities including Riverside, Santa Clarita, Brea, Whittier, Lancaster, Calabasas, Fullerton, Long Beach, Nuevo and Jurupa Valley.

A fire that began south of the U.S.-Mexico border late Wednesday night was also halted by firefighters.

In Northern California, the Kincade fire that roared through Sonoma County wine country was under control Thursday as more evacuations were lifted.

The Hillside fire threatened the North Park neighborhood of San Bernardino. Evacuations have been ordered and a shelter is open.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said the blaze was 60% contained after burning 76,000 acres and nearly 100 structures. It was a big fire but far less destructive than the 2017 wine country fire storms that destroyed thousands of homes and killed dozens.

But the extreme winds that fanned the fire were replaced by freezing temperatures. The National Weather Service issued a frost warning for parts of Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties, with temperatures dropping to the 30s in some cities and the 20s in hillside locations. Healdsburg, one of the cities threatened by the fire, recorded a 26-degree low Thursday morning.


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