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More than 1,500 ordered to flee Calif. wildfires

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Associated Press
August 28, 2009
— Wildfires chewed through tinder-dry brush up and down California on Friday, forcing hundreds to flee ritzy seaside neighborhoods, comfortable foothill suburbs and tiny farming communities.

Up to 1,500 people were ordered to evacuate from the wealthy seaside community of Rancho Palos Verdes, Fire Inspector Frederic Stowers said early Friday. He said the mandatory evacuations were ordered until 6 a.m. Friday.


Stowers said an unknown number of structures had been damaged in the blaze. The wealthy communities on the Palos Verdes Peninsula south of Los Angeles are in an area known for horse trails, spectacular Pacific Ocean views, pricey real estate and exclusive golf clubs, including the Trump National Golf Club owned by Donald Trump.


Helicopters dropped water on the 100-acre blaze, slowing its progression toward homes, but there was no containment early Friday, Stowers said.


The Terrenea Resort, a luxury hotel a couple miles from the fire, opened its door to locals who had to evacuate.


By midnight Friday, only two families took advantage of the offer but several others had called to inquire, said hotel spokeswoman Wendy Haase. The resort’s usual weeknight rate is $264, but the rooms weren’t fully booked so the managers decided to help out, she said.


“I talked to one mom and her child and a dog. They were pretty calm, all things considered,” she said. “It’s pretty late so everyone’s just exhausted and wanted to get some sleep.”


About 500 homes in La Canada Flintridge, a suburb just 12 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, were also evacuated late Thursday as flames made their way slowly down from the San Gabriel Mountains, said Forest Service fire spokeswoman Diane Cahir.


The fire kicked up late Thursday afternoon as the blaze scorched at least 500 acres of heavy brush in steep and narrow canyons about 12 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.


Weather plagued fire crews across Southern California as temperatures in some areas rose toward triple digits and humidity levels headed downward. For a third day Friday, the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for many of California’s central and southern mountain ranges.


Three days of low humidity and temperatures that hit 99 before noon Thursday in downtown Los Angeles sapped the vegetation of moisture.


Another fire in the San Gabriel Mountains spread a lung-burning haze over much of metropolitan Los Angeles, and was 60 percent contained late Thursday after burning across 2,000 acres, or more than 3 square miles, said Capt. Jim Wilkins of the U.S. Forest Service.


Nearly 1,000 firefighters aided by bulldozers and a fleet of water- and fire retardant-dropping aircraft worked the fire’s northeastern edge.


Wilkins said the area is so steep that “it’s almost to the point where you need ropes” for firefighters to reach it.


The fire, believed caused by human action began Tuesday near a dam and reservoir in San Gabriel Canyon, a half-dozen miles above the city of Azusa.


Farther north in Monterey County, 100 homes were evacuated about four miles from the community of Soledad. The fire burned more than 2,000 acres of steep grasslands, or more than 3 square miles, since it started Thursday afternoon, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Capt. James Dellamonica said. The blaze has not been contained.


To the west, in the San Bernardino National Forest in Riverside County, another fire had blackened 600 acres by Thursday evening and prompted authorities to issue a voluntary evacuation of 12 homes in the area near Hemet, said Forest Service fire spokeswoman Anabele Cornejo. She said about five people had left and that the fire was 5 percent contained.


Associated Press Writers Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco and Tracie Cone in Fresno contributed to this report.

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