published Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Winds raise Southern California fire danger

Orange County Fire Authority firefighters work the scene of a house fire on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, in Santa Ana, Calif.
Orange County Fire Authority firefighters work the scene of a house fire on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, in Santa Ana, Calif.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

LOS ANGELES — Southern California firefighters aggressively attacked small but potentially dangerous blazes Tuesday as gusty Santa Ana winds swept the region and humidity levels plunged to vegetation-withering, single-digit levels.

Numerous firefighters were dispatched to blazes to prevent the whipping winds from rapidly spreading them into major conflagrations.

The Santa Anas, generated by strong surface high pressure anchored over the West, were predicted to strengthen Tuesday night and remain at advisory levels until noon Wednesday. Red-flag warnings for fire danger were expected to remain in effect until Wednesday evening.

In Riverside County's Jurupa Valley, 110 firefighters attacked flames spread by 25 mph winds across a two-acre property.

The fire destroyed two houses, two mobile homes, three motor homes, 40 vehicles in different states of repair and 11 sheds, lean-tos and other structures, state fire Capt. Lucas Spelman said. Two mobile homes were damaged.

Alejandro Heredia fled with his 3-year-old child, 15-day-old baby and dog when palm trees began burning in a field behind his home. He said firefighters concentrated on saving his parents' nearby house while his burned.

"We asked for help, and they said that they were doing what they can," Heredia told the Riverside Press-Enterprise (http://bit.ly/1dtUpuC ). "Everything is lost. There's nothing left."

By nightfall, the fire was 85 percent contained and only smoldering as crews worked to mop up hotspots. One firefighter was treated for a non-life threatening injury.

"The reason why we got an upper hand so quickly is because the wind had actually subsided for about 10 minutes," allowing a breathing space for firefighters, Spelman said.

Another fire in the Cabazon area of Riverside County was contained at 10 acres by 158 firefighters. Two air tankers, a helicopter and three bulldozers were also assigned.

Several small fires were quickly doused farther south.

In Los Angeles County, a SuperScooper aircraft dumped tons of water on streams of flame that rolled up a steep cliffside along Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades Tuesday afternoon. The flames crept within feet of multimillion-dollar clifftop homes, but none were damaged and the fire was knocked down in about 1 1/2 hours, authorities said.

Earlier in Los Angeles, more than 100 firefighters and two helicopters responded when a large house caught fire in the Chatsworth area of the San Fernando Valley and strong gusts threatened to spit embers into a neighborhood downwind.

In the Santa Monica Mountains between Calabasas and Malibu, a blaze near a downed power line along Old Topanga Canyon Road was held to under two acres after a response that included more than 20 fire engines, eight hand crews, three Firehawk helicopters, two SuperScoopers and other units. Extra personnel had been positioned in the area because of the critical dryness.

"We were able to get kind of a quick jump on it," said Inspector Scott Miller of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Winds brought down a tree on a school in San Bernardino late Monday. Nobody was hurt.

Many fire agencies pre-deployed resources to vulnerable areas in advance of the Santa Anas, which are associated with many of Southern California's worst wildfires. Los Angeles and Pasadena activated parking restrictions in hilly neighborhoods to keep narrow roads open for fire engines.

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