Firefighter Josh Balboa monitors the Harris fire in southern San Diego County. Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times
Catalina fire: The search for a cause
One single-family home was destroyed along with six industrial and commercial buildings, said Steven Hofs, the Avalon fire chief.
He said there is still no known cause for the fire. Some contractors were working on an antenna near where the blaze started, and investigators said they were looking into whether they might have accidentally -- and perhaps unknowingly -- sparked it.
The fire has burned 4,200 acres burned. It is now 35% contained, and officials expect full containment by Tuesday. Mayor Robert Kennedy praised the efforts of the Navy, the L.A. County Fire Department and the L.A. County Sheriff's Department. "Without that response we wouldn't be standing in front of you today," he said.
Seven hundred people from various agencies are fighting the fire.
County Supervisor Don Knabe praised the assistance. "The good Lord willing, the weather holds, and the wind stays down, we're in pretty good shape," said Knabe.
Most businesses on the island were closed Friday, including souvenir, ice cream and tee shirt shops. Only a few stayed open to serve emergency personnel, some offering their wares for half-price or free. Those still open became places for people to gather and share their stories.
Pamela Miller, owner of C.C. Gallagher, an espresso bar and gallery, was coordinating with about a half- dozen restaurants on the mainland, which donated as much food as they could gather to feed firefighters coming off the lines. "We were just getting as much food as quick as they could." Like many businessowners, many of Miller's employees couldn’t work because they’d been evacuated. Several volunteers stepped in to help out. "We’re extremely concerned about making sure we can do whatever needed for the firemen….as long as we have enough people to stay open, we’ll stay open."
As the Catalina fire tore through dry chaparral toward Avalon on Thursday, it came as no surprise that some residents were talking about goats.
Thousands of free-running goats have been killed or removed from the island since the early 1990s as part of the Catalina Island Conservancy's efforts to restore the island to its natural state. The wild goats, descendants of farm animals imported by early settlers, were prolific grazers that consumed native chaparral and scrub plants and left hillsides barren of vegetation. A goat-free island would allow native plants and animals to rebound, said officials with the conservancy, which manages 88% of the largely uninhabited island. But on Thursday night, one island old-timer waxed nostalgic for the old days of well-grazed terrain. (More below)
Smoke from the Catalina wildfire is creating unhealthy air conditions on the island and for those on boats nearby, air regulators said today.
People with asthma and heart or lung disease should minimize outdoor activity. If conditions grow worse, sensitive people should avoid outdoor activity completely, and everyone in the area is advised to discontinue prolonged, vigorous outdoor exercise lasting more than an hour, said South Coast Air Quality Management spokesman Sam Atwood, who said updates would continue as necessary.
Particulate matter in wildfire smoke can be harmful to lungs and respiratory systems.
Tonya Saleda, 42, was operating on just three hours of sleep as she returned home to Avalon with her 7-year-old daughter, Emily, who has asthma, husband Jim and their dog, Honey.
"It was pretty wild. ... It looked like it was snowing, there was so much ash," said Saleda, who manages a hotel on the Catalina waterfront.
She described streets filled with people carrying their pets to safety and covering their faces to protect against the smoke. Saleda grabbed a backpack and small suitcase crammed with clothes, birth certificates and Emily's stuffed baby hedgehog.
Judee Myers, 61, and her husband Rick, a 62-year-old doctor, both from Sacramento, had to cut their honeymoon short when they were evacuated from their waterfront hotel. "It was like Dunkirk," said Rick Myers of the evacuation from Avalon, referencing the Allied flotilla that evacuated troops from mainland Europe as the Nazis advanced.
His wife's escape plan was for them to jump out of their hotel room window into the ocean. He had other ideas.
"We've got the bar and we've got the water," he said, adding that he opted to "have another cocktail."
Some tourists who decided to stay put Thursday night were giving up today and heading for the ferry back to the mainland.
A couple, who gave only their first names, Maciej and Anna, were with their two small children and had intended to stay until Sunday as part of a five-day trip. "Everybody left yesterday in a panic," they said. They decided to wait it out. But this morning, they said the situation was "still unclear" and there was "too much uncertainty" to remain. They were headed for the 12:30 p.m. ferry to San Pedro.
Pat Damiano, who arrived Wednesday from Palm Springs, was also walking toward the ferry with her chihuahua, cutting her trip short as well. Initially, she figured she could run into the water. "We'd be cold, but OK," she said. But when the flames crossed through the mountain last night, she said it was time to go. Firefighters "were doing such a good job," she said, "but no one slept."
Avalon Mayor Bob Kennedy said there were more deer than people on Avalon's streets Thursday night, driven from their habitat by the raging fire. Displaced, they wandered through town. There are large numbers of deer on the island, Kennedy said.