Wildfires' effects felt here

Although La Cañada escaped the fires in Southern California, the effects are far-reaching. Smoke filled the skies over the city on Tuesday afternoon, blotting out the sun. Students in La Cañada Unified School District were placed on a restricted outdoor recess schedule and outdoor games were canceled.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, as of Wednesday afternoon 15 fires were still burning in Southern California, 414,133 acres had been burned, over 880,000 people had been evacuated from fire danger areas and none of the fires had been contained. Later in the afternoon, the agency reported that two fires within Los Angeles County, the Malibu and Stevenson Ranch blazes, were nearing containment.

Around La Cañada, firefighters and sheriff's station personnel had been deployed to fire areas, primarily those within this county.

“We are on 12-hour shifts,” said Sgt. Ray Harley of the Crescenta Valley Sheriff's Station.

“We just get in and are called out again,” said Battalion Chief Ed Broomfield of Los Angeles County Fire Dept. Station 82, as he headed back out to the Santa Clarita area.

All personnel and equipment from the stations in La Cañada and La Crescenta have been deployed to help support fire-fighting efforts, said Jason Hurd, county fire spokesperson.

Regardless, Hurd said La Cañada was still protected by reserve equipment and those firefighters who had originally been scheduled to go off shift, but were instead ordered to stay at the station.

Sheriff personnel and California Highway Patrol were on tactical alert, according to spokespersons at both agencies. All vacations and days off were canceled in the CHP everyone was on call, said CHP Officer Todd Workman.

On Tuesday, the Angeles National Forest invoked an emergency shut down due to extreme fire danger. Angeles Crest Highway remained open, but U.S. Forestry Service personnel and CHP officers patrolling the forest advised visitors they came across to leave immediately and all forest use permits were canceled, said Stanton Florea, fire information officer for the U.S. Forestry Service.

For a long time firefighters had been warning residents throughout Southern California that the dry vegetation's and lack of moisture would play a big factor in fire danger. Last year's fire season that normally began in October and should have ended in the spring, was never-ending because fire officials said the danger continued unabated. The stage was set for fire, but the Santa Ana winds blowing through the Southland this week heightened the danger and affected firefighting.

“We had gusts to the excess of 100 mile per hour,” said Bill Patzert, oceanographer and climatologist at JPL. “They were strong but not unprecedented. What has made this so dangerous is that we have had almost no rainfall in 18 months.

“A few years ago we had record rainfall,” Patzert said. “That increased vegetation then it was dry [again].”

Patzert added that this is just the beginning of Santa Ana wind conditions.

“We usually have Santa Anas 30 to 40 days out of the year,” he said.

“All major burn areas are right below where everything has been built up,” Patzert said. “There are too many people in high risks areas.”

The population in California has doubled in the last 50 years, he said. “We have done an extreme makeover of Southern California. This is human nature coming in conflict with Mother Nature.”

The winds are predicted to die down by Wednesday evening and cooler temperatures are expected however Patzert warned that this does not mean the extreme conditions are at an end.

“When you look at the brush around your community, think of San Diego County,” he said. “This is a wake up call.”

Views of the fire from JPL/NASA satellites can be found at www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/fires.cfm Information on the fires can be found at www.fire.lacounty.gov

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