Southern California Wildfires

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Weather is on firefighters' side - for now
Cool, moist air is aiding the battle against the last of the Southern California wildfires, but Santa Ana winds are expected to return by this weekend. More

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Firefighter Josh Balboa monitors the Harris fire in southern San Diego County.

Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Malibu Presbyterian: Worship after destruction

Congregants of Malibu Presbyterian Church, undaunted by last week's Canyon fire, which destroyed their religious home, gathered en masse nearby today to pray and voice their resolve to rebuild.

The parishioners worshiped at the Malibu Performing Arts Center, just down the hill from where their 50-year-old church lay in ruins.

They hugged. Some cried over their loss. But the mood was redemptive.

Jesus, they recalled, would have called on them to march on.

They handed out fliers announcing that the church's ministries would continue, including seminars for parents, meetings for Pepperdine University students and a food drive for the homeless at the nearby Ralphs supermarket.

"It feels good to be back, but it's not the place we're used to," the Rev. Greg Hughes said as he prepared to lead the service.

Up at the old church before the service, Mike Rupp, 46, tiptoed through the charred remains, searching for some of the peace he had known so often in the sanctuary. Rupp was married in the church; his two children were baptized there. He tried to comprehend what had occurred.

"This building was my safe haven, my sanctuary, where I could always find God when I was troubled," said Rupp, an Agoura salesman, who brought his son and daughter to see the remains of the church. "This was a really cool place, and it will be again."

-- Duke Helfand

Los Angeles schools are open, but kids stay indoors

Los Angeles:

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, only one school closed entirely. Topanga Canyon Elementary, not far from the fire zone, shut down Tuesday, but reopened on Wednesday. The school system has canceled all outdoor activities, including physical education classes and team practices "until further notice," based on directive from the county health department and the district's own environmental health and safety office.

"Students are even eating inside at many of our schools," said Richard Alonzo, the superintendent of District 4, which includes Glassell Park, Echo Park and Hollywood. As for recreation activities, "schools usually have board games and things like that," said Alonzo. "They can read or play indoors, anything to get kids out of their seats and moving around."

Carson High Principal Kenneth Keener said his student athletes were able to play basketball and volleyball matches Wednesday because they were indoors. "Anything outside, we're just waiting for word of when it's safe, day by day," Keener said.

But even indoor activities are not automatically allowed, said Shelley Weston, a senior staffer in District 7, which covers much of South Los Angeles. "As a principal you need to look at your ventilation system," she said. "If you have a facility where you have a lot of outside air coming in," there may be problems.

The biggest athletic event of the week at many schools is Friday night football, which is officially canceled or postponed until district officials announce otherwise. Updates are posted at the website for the California Interscholastic Federation Los Angeles City Section.

-- Howard Blume

Bike patrol in Malibu


Rod Percival, 46, coasted his mountain bike down Las Flores Canyon Road, his dog Ayla skittering behind him. Like many residents, Percival and his wife had refused to leave Malibu. Late Tuesday morning, he used his trusty bike to take stock, as best as he could, of the fire danger.

A neighbor, Bruce Bolander, 43, asked Percival how things looked.

"We're safe. I've just ridden around the entire canyon," Percival responded. "The fire's out."

Bolander asked his friend if he thought there was any way to sneak his wife Bonny passed the sheriff's barricade. She was at Duke's, a popular restaurant down on PCH.

"Is she prepared to walk?" Percival asked, not conveying much optimism.

Bolander muttered an expletive.

Percival himself wanted to go down to PCH, but knew that if he did so, he would not be let back in.

"I need some beer. I'm out of beer," Percival joked. "This is terrible."

High above Las Flores Canyon, at fire Camp 8, L.A. County Fire Capt. Jeff Kaliher said the situation in the still smoldering mountains of Malibu was improving. Firefighters below and aircraft in the sky had kept a critical front of the wildfire from marching toward Topanga Canyon.

"We're holding the eastern line," Kaliher said.

Things had improved to the point where his strike team could relax a little, roughhouse with the two camp dogs, picnic and lather up their fire engine. Planes surveyed the fire from above.

Kaliher had not been impressed with choices made by some Malibu residents. Some of the homes had terrible brush clearance, he said.

"There's some homes, the only reason they're here is because engines were here to save them," Kaliher said.

The fire captain said he was hopeful the Malibu fire could be contained soon. But he also knew, one way or another, his team's job was far from done.

"You've got San Diego. You've got Arrowhead," Kaliher said. "Once they determine we're not needed here, we'll be reassigned elsewhere."

-- Tami Abdollah

Details of second death in L.A. County


California Fire Chief Ralph Alworth at the Southern California Geographic Area Coordination Center in Riverside said here was what they knew about the second fire-related death in L.A. County:

On the first day of the Buckweed Fire, a civilian trying to flee in his car got into a wreck and his car caught fire. His death today is being classified as fire-related.

Fifteen homes destroyed by Buckweed fire


Thirty-two structures were lost in the Buckweed fire north of Saugus, including 15 homes, said Fire Inspector Frank Garrido of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

"There were 38 miles of fire lines to contain, and we have 80% containment," he said. All roads were opened up to residents, except for the northern end of Bouquet Canyon Road, he said.

Four injuries were reported, minor ones for two civilians and one firefighter, and more serious ones for another civilian, he said.

--Tami Abdollah

Posse on horseback checks on neighbors


A posse of four residents rode on horseback through Castaic's rugged canyons Tuesday afternoon. Their mission: to make sure everyone in this sparsely populated ranch-style community had survived the flames that had threatened their homes early that morning.

"I've been on horseback for three days," said Lisa Raymond, who led the pack. "This is my four-wheel drive," she added, pointing at her horse Peanuts.

The group first came upon Tony Brubaker and his wife, Sharon:their backyard was charred but their home survived.

"It came right in our back pocket," Brubaker said.

When the flames had made their way up every surrounding canyon, Brubaker decided to evacuate his $1.4 million home. The couple took their two dogs, a horse and a bird, but left 8 chickens.

Raymond next came upon Marv Metcalf, who stayed behind as flames approached his 18-acre property early Tuesday.

"Glad to see you're okay," Raymond said.

Metcalf ignored orders to evacuate so he could protect his two horses. At about 4 a.m., as the flames came down the hillside, Metcalf stood with a hose spraying nearby trees.

Firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service arrived soon after to fight the fire. Metcalf's home survived undamaged.

Raymond kept on riding.

"This is one of those communities where everyone needs to help each other," Raymond said.

-- Jean-Paul Renaud

Malibu cable back on by this evening


Some 90% of Charter Communications cable, Internet and telephone customers in Malibu are without service, after fiber-optic lines burned in the Malibu fires, the company said in a statement. Service will return gradually, but should be completed by this evening, the company said.

New fire in Acton

Los Angeles County Fire officials said a new fire was reported at 3:40 p.m. at 1216 West Avenue Y-8 near the Antelope Valley Freeway in the Acton area. The fire, which had burned several acres, was threatening homes in the Cedar Croft and Brian Glen areas. At least 240 have been dispatched to fight the fire, which is 5% contained.

-- Andrew Blankstein

No suicide mission for Malibu firefighters

At the incident command post by Malibu Civic Center, Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Edward Osorio said about 200 firefighters were leaving the Canyon fire, with some heading to San Diego. The 4,400-acre blaze was burning up to Piuma Road through Carbon Canyon Bowl, steep territory that is unsafe for firefighters.

"We can't get in there in a canyon. We'd have to hike down, and you're basically sending firefighters on a suicide mission," Osorio said.

A plane is dropping fire retardant on the eastern fire line, from Rambla Pacifico to Las Flores Canyon Road, he said.

"The fire's actually laid down pretty good," Osorio said. "There is no active fire activity. Some hot spots are smoking."

The western fire line is along Winter Canyon Road, and the northern line is at Piuma Road, Osorio said.

Some 700 homes have been evacuated of 2,100 people, Osorio said. The fire's cause is under investigation, Osorio said.

-- Tami Abdollah

PCH and Topanga Canyon Blvd. are closed


Caltrans has closed Pacific Coast Highway in both directions between Topanga Canyon
Boulevard and Kanan Dume Road, and Topanga Canyon Boulevard from Pacific Coast Highway to Mulholland