Cooler weather helps firefighters make gains on Southern California wildfires

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGame Center: Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 10 a.m. “We’re due for a change and the weather forecast is going to become warmer and drier,” said Chris Caswell with the Orange County Fire Authority. “We’re still cautiously optimistic.” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Saturday visited a command post near Orange County’s Santiago Canyon fire to announce assistance for people with losses, warn of contracting scams, and pledge to find whoever set the nearby blaze that continued to threaten homes after destroying 14. Addressing controversy over state rules that caused delay in getting military aircraft into use against the fires, Schwarzenegger said it sometimes takes disaster “to really wake everyone up.” “There are things that we could improve on and I think this is what we are going to do because a disaster like this … in the end is a good vehicle, a motivator for everyone to come together,” he said. The number of deaths directly attributed to the fires officially rose to seven with the addition of four suspected illegal immigrants whose charred bodies were found east of San Diego on Thursday. LAKE ARROWHEAD – Cooler weather helped firefighters make strong gains on many of the wildfires burning across Southern California on Saturday, but officials remained guarded about what the rest of the weekend might bring. Tropical moisture flowing from the south replaced the hot, dry, skin-cracking Santa Ana winds that roared in a week earlier and spread fires over more than a half-million acres, destroying more than 2,300 structures, including 1,790 homes. By late Saturday more than a dozen blazes were surrounded and containment of nine other blazes ranged from 40 to 97 percent. Fire officials in San Bernadino County said they expected the Grass Valley Fire to be fully contained on Sunday. Sunday’s weather forecast, however, predicted another shift. The four deaths were confirmed as caused by the Harris Fire near the U.S.-Mexico border, said Jose Alvarez, a public information officer for San Diego County emergency services. Identification of the victims was continuing. The Mexican government said that 11 Mexicans were being treated at a San Diego hospital for burns suffered in Southern California’s wildfires after crossing the border illegally, and four were in critical condition. Active fires burned in the Lake Arrowhead resort region of the towering San Bernardino Mountains 100 miles east of Los Angeles, and in rugged wilderness above isolated canyon communities of Orange County, southeast of Los Angeles. A big blaze 60 miles northeast of San Diego stopped its advance toward the mountain town of Julian. The nearby Slide Fire was about a mile from thousands of homes in Arrowbear, Green Valley Lake and Running Springs. Rain began falling in the mountain range during the late afternoon. In Southern California fire areas, about 4,400 people remained in 28 shelter sites, but others waited out the fires in makeshift encampments. In Highland, at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains, about 20 people were in their sixth day of living in a Wal-Mart parking lot, getting daily visits from sheriff’s officials who reported their 17 homes were still intact. “What are the chances of that? The hundreds of people staying at the shelters, I still don’t think they have the comfort of knowing that kind of information,” said Robert Newbourgh, 44. Hundreds of evacuees flooded back into Crestline, Valley of Enchantment and Lake Gregory, small mountain communities tucked in canyons and alongside lakes in the San Bernardino mountains. Light rain also fell on the Rancho Bernardo section of San Diego, where more than 360 homes were lost. National Guard troops patrolled and postal trucks delivered mail to homes that were still standing. “Everybody is really happy for me and I’m sad for them,” said Helena Hyman, a retired school administrator whose cul-de-sac home survived with five ruined homes on each side. She credited her good fortune to replacing wood shingles with a fiberglass roof and chopping down a eucalyptus tree within the last five years. Another resident, Bruce Heinemann, 48, spoke with an insurance adjuster as friends sifted through his ruined home, looking for his wife’s wedding ring, photos and other mementos. Meanwhile, his daughter was at a newly rented home making lists of what they lost, and his wife was visiting department stores to get prices for the insurers. The Heinemanns had about 10 minutes to evacuate Monday morning, just enough time to escape with some clothes and three of their four cars. Heinemann, a self-employed loan officer, said it makes financial sense to rebuild, but they may never return to live on the street where the fire left hopscotch destruction – some of the Spanish-style, tile-roofed homes left standing, while others were turned to ash, leaving burned-out cars, chimneys and remnants of refrigerators and washing machines. “It sounds terrible, but I’m glad it’s gone. How would you like to sit in your house when one third of your neighbors are gone?” he said. Elsewhere in the community, mortgage broker Mike Bartholemew, 37, removed rotten food from his refrigerator as he waited for cleaners to vacuum soot from inside his home, which survived the flames. Bartholemew said returning home stirred memories of the frightening experience as flames advanced toward his home at 4 a.m. Monday. He said he opened his front door to “a bellowing furnace, smoke and embers” as a palm tree across the street burned and neighbors screamed. Bartholemew said his wife and two children fled in an SUV and he left in another car, but fell unconscious for unknown reasons and crashed into a utility box. He said a police officer rescued him. “I have never in my life been that scared. I kept repeating to myself, ‘Don’t panic, don’t panic, don’t panic.’ The fact that no one died in this neighborhood is a miracle,” he said. Bartholemew said it was eerie to be surrounded by ruined homes but he was anxious to come back home as soon as electricity was restored. “I don’t know where I would move in San Diego with these dry Santa Ana conditions we get,” he said. “I could move to Indiana, but they have tornados and floods. Everywhere you go in the country you get something. Here we have earthquakes and fires.” — California wildfire overall statistics: Acreage: 505,279. Homes destroyed: 1,790. Deaths: Seven directly due to fire; seven involving evacuees, including infirmity, age, accident. Injuries: 71 firefighters, 27 civilians. Evacuees: 4,403 people in 28 shelters. Active Wildfires: San Diego County: Witch Fire: About 197,990 acres from Witch Creek to Rancho Santa Fe. 75 percent contained. 911 homes, 30 commercial properties, 175 outbuildings, 239 autos destroyed. Two killed. Two civilians, 34 firefighters injured. Firefighting cost: $9 million. Harris Fire: 86,500 acres 70 miles southeast of San Diego. 65 percent contained. 188 homes, 222 outbuildings, 120 autos, one commercial building destroyed. Five killed. 21 civilians, 16 firefighters injured. 1,500 homes threatened. Firefighting cost: $7.8 million. Poomacha Fire: 45,000 acres on La Jolla Indian Reservation and northeastern county territory. 45 percent contained. 78 homes, 19 outbuildings destroyed. 2,000 homes threatened. 14 firefighters injured. Firefighting cost: $3.5 million. Rice Fire: 9,000 acres in Fallbrook. 90 percent contained. 206 homes, 40 outbuildings, 91 autos, two commercial properties destroyed. 200 homes threatened. Three firefighters injured. Firefighting cost: $3.1 million. Horno/Ammo Fire: 21,084 acres on Camp Pendleton Marine base. 95 percent contained. Ventura County: Ranch Fire: 58,401 acres in northern Los Angeles County and eastern Ventura County near Piru. 97 percent contained. One home, nine outbuildings destroyed. One firefighter injured. Firefighting cost: $8.7 million. Orange County: Santiago Fire: 27,630 acres east of Irvine. 40 percent contained. 16 homes destroyed. Eight structures damaged. Five firefighters injured. Firefighting cost: $5.5 million. San Bernardino County: Slide Fire: 12,789 acres in Green Valley Lake area of the San Bernardino Mountains. 65 percent contained. 201 homes, three outbuildings destroyed. 5,500 residences threatened. One firefighter injured. Firefighting cost: $7 million. Grass Valley Fire: 1,140 acres in Grass Valley area of the San Bernardino Mountains. 95 percent contained. 162 homes destroyed. 6,000 threatened. Firefighting cost: $4.6 million. Major Contained Fires: Los Angeles County: Buckweed: 38,356 acres near Agua Dulce. 21 homes, 22 outbuildings, two bridges, 40 vehicles destroyed. Three civilians, two firefighters injured. Firefighting cost: $5.8 million. Canyon: 4,565 acres in Malibu. Six homes, two businesses, one church destroyed. Three firefighters injured. Firefighting cost: $5.2 million. Magic: 2,824 acres. Sources: State Office of Emergency Services; county, state, federal fire agencies; county emergency officials.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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