California Firefighters Battled Against Weather to Clear Brush

September 11, 2009

Firefighters this week were racing against the weather to clear brush before heat descended on Southern California, stoking the giant 15-day-old wildfire burning in the Angeles National Forest.

With 19 miles (31 kilometers) of fireline left to cut in steep and forbidding wilderness, hot and dry conditions at mid-week pushed plans to set backfires into the night as crews waited for the weather to cooperate.

Containment notched upward to 62 percent and there was no increase in size, said Darryl Jacobs, a spokesman at the fire command post, on Wednesday.

The fire has burned across 160,357 acres (64,895 hectares), or 250 square miles (647 square kilometers), of the San Gabriel Mountains north and east of Los Angeles since it was started by arson along a forest road on Aug. 26.

At least two dozen helicopters and airplanes were attacking the blaze, along with 3,647 firefighters, as more crews were released back to their home stations.

But since Monday, unpredictable winds have foiled firefighters’ plans to use backfires to contain the eastern flank in the San Gabriel Wilderness, an incredibly rugged preserve in the forest where elevations range from 1,600 feet (488 meters) to 8,200 feet (2,500 meters) and growth ranges from chaparral to pine and fir.

After days of delays due to low humidity, fire officials finally began burn out operations on Wednesday evening, Jacobs said.

Temperatures in the Los Angeles region have been more moderate this week than in the first week of the fire, when high heat and little air movement clamped a smoky lid on the metropolitan area. Breezes from the ocean have since cleared the air and a deep marine layer has moved well ashore during overnight hours.

Morning moisture and dew might also allow helicopters with torches burn through the steep canyons around Mount Wilson and build a substantial buffer around its historic observatory and television, radio and cell phone transmission towers, Jacobs said.

Crews hoped to clear brush before warmer and drier conditions return to Southern California on Friday, as a high-pressure system builds across Northern California.

The fire command post was moved eastward this week from Los Angeles to Irwindale, a small industrial city closer to the active east end of the blaze.

Residents of the suburbs below the southern face of the San Gabriels were getting updates on the fire’s status online.

Two firefighters were killed Aug. 30 when their truck plunged off a mountain road, which has made the arson probe a homicide investigation.

The fire has destroyed 78 residences, two commercial properties and 87 outbuildings. It has damaged 13 residences, two communications sites, one commercial property and 30 outbuildings.

Topics California

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