Focus of L.A. wildfire turns to rugged interior
Firefighters battling a week-old wildfire raging through mountains near Los Angeles focused on two hard-to-reach flanks on Wednesday, helped by a second day of elevated humidity and light clouds, Reuters reported.
The more favorable conditions were key in the battle to save Mount Wilson, home to a world-famous observatory and a telecommunications and broadcasting hub for the region.
Days after predicting the 5,700-foot (1,740-meter) was virtually doomed to be engulfed in a firestorm, officials said Wednesday they hoped the site would largely be spared.
Muffled fire activity attributed to higher moisture levels in the air gave fire crews time to launch a renewed, all-out campaign to clear dense brush around the mountain.
"We're pretty confident we can hold that area," said Nathan Judy, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman. "Right now, we've got high humidity, which is great. That's slowing the progress of the fire."
But fire commander Mike Dietrich warned that the situation could still "turn in a flash."
After scorching over 140,000 acres, an area roughly the size of Chicago, the so-called Station Fire was poised to become one of the 10 largest wildfires in California history.
Although many of the residents chased away by fierce flames days ago continued returning home to the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, the fire was still just 22 percent contained.
Since erupting last Wednesday about 15 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, the blaze has destroyed more than 60 houses, killed two firefighters and cost $21 million to battle. Full containment is expected to take about two more weeks.
Despite strains placed on the state's firefighting budget by a flurry of recent blazes flaring across California in the midst of a state cash crisis, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger insisted he had sufficient resources for such emergencies.
"Even though we have a budget crunch and a financial crisis ... we always have the money available to fight fires," he said at a news conference after taking time to serve breakfast to firefighters and get a briefing from commanders.
Paying his second visit to the area this week, Schwarzenegger said the state can still tap a $500 million reserve fund established recently, mostly through cuts in social services.
U.S. Congressman Brad Sherman, whose district includes areas hit by the fire, also said 75 percent of state and local firefighting costs in California this year would be reimbursed by a federal emergency grant that already has been approved.
The origin of the fire is under investigation, but Dietrich said human activity, accidental or deliberate, was presumed to be the cause. "Obviously, there was no lightning," he said.
While authorities gave the all-clear for people to return to home on Tuesday and Wednesday, about 2,000 dwellings around the fire zone remained under evacuation orders, police said.
Some of the most rugged interior sections of the Angeles National Forest at either end of the 20-mile-long fire zone were shaping up as major battlegrounds, officials said.
Judy said fire commanders were especially concerned about keeping the eastern flank of the fire in check and away from heavily populated areas immediately below it in the San Gabriel Valley.
Some 4,000 firefighting personnel from across the West have been assembled to battle the Station Fire, assisted by an arsenal of bulldozers, helicopters and airplanes.