California wildfire roars across 100,000-plus acres

Firefighters stand by Monday as a wall of flames from a backfire light up a hillside in La Crescenta, California.
Weary firefighters labored into the early Tuesday, hacking away at bone-dry tree limbs and laying down fire retardant as they tried to beat back a 6-day-old blaze in Southern California.

Triple-digit temperatures combined with low humidity pushed the Station Fire in Angeles National Forest from 45,000 acres to more than 100,000 acres in a matter of hours Monday. This area north of Los Angeles had not seen a major fire in more than 60 years. The blaze, the largest of at least five burning in the state, forced thousands of evacuations and threatened as many structures. Among them are the Mount Wilson Observatory and communication towers that radio and TV stations use for broadcasts, said Mike Dietrich of the U.S. Forest Service. “This is a very angry fire that we’re fighting right now,” Dietrich said. “Until we can get a change in weather conditions, I’m not overly optimistic.” Weather forecasts show little change in conditions for the next four to five days. The fire, which has sent thick smoke spiraling as much as 20,000 feet into the air, is creating its own wind patterns, officials said. As a result, it has become unpredictable. Watch as firefighters are forced to be on the defensive »

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“This fire is headed just about anywhere it wants to right now,” said Dietrich, who earlier said the blaze had “a mind of its own.” Fire officials said they had issued evacuation notices for 10,000 homes under threat. See images of the wildfire » But five people in the evacuation area had refused requests to leave, said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. “For now, the fire has changed direction, and their home isn’t in immediate danger,” Whitmore said. But he cautioned that it was impossible to forecast the fire’s erratic movement. By late Monday, the fire had claimed the lives of two firefighters and injured 12 other people. Capt. Tedmund Hall, 47, and Spc. Arnaldo Quinones, 35, died Sunday when their vehicle went down a steep, 700-foot embankment, Dietrich said. But the more than 2,500 fire personnel, working 12-hour shifts, had little time to mourn their colleagues. See where the fire is burning » “We will not rest until it’s out,” Dietrich told reporters. The Station Fire started Wednesday of an undetermined cause. By late Monday, firefighters had contained 5 percent of the blaze. See how these wildfires grow » The fire had destroyed 53 structures. In addition to at least 10,000 homes, 500 businesses and 2,000 other structures also were threatened. Watch how the fast-moving wildfire has doubled in size » “The challenge is going to be going back to reality, because I’ve been looking at the fire and the mountains from where I am,” said Elsa Aguirre, who was at a Red Cross shelter in a high school Monday. Aguirre, 57, left her ranch home in Altadena early Saturday with her husband and her cat. She took with her a box of mementos, including her mother’s tea seat from Argentina. “The mountains look pretty spooky right now without any vegetation. … I’m just taking it one day at a time,” she said. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency Friday as a result of the Station Fire. On Monday, he toured the damage left in the wake of another fire — the 49 Fire in Northern California’s Placer County. By Monday night, the fire had burned 275 acres and was 50 percent contained.

The governor also declared a state of emergency in Monterey County, where one blaze, called the Gloria Fire, had burned about 6,500 acres, and another, called the Bryson Fire, had charred more than 3,000 acres, according to the Forest Service. And in San Bernardino County, the Oak Glen Fire was 12 percent contained by late Monday. It had burned down one home and threatened thousands of others.