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Air attack resumes on brush fires; state of emergency declared in L.A. County [Updated]

August 28, 2009 | 10:27 am

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Firefighters were making an aerial assault this morning on brush fires in the Palos Verdes Peninsula and La Cañada Flintridge as Southern California awoke to what will be another day of triple-digit temperatures and smoky air caused by the fire.

The two blazes were the most serious of four wildfires burning in Southern California. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed a state of emergency in Los Angeles County because of the blazes.

More photosThe biggest concern was the Station fire in the Angeles National Forest, which was burning near homes on the northside of La Cañada Flintridge. The fire jumped Highway 2 and into the Arroyo Seco area overnight. Fire officials were concerned about homes along Starlight Crest Drive, which runs just east of Highway 2 and is adjacent to a watershed park.The blaze had burned 1,500 acres and was 10% contained.

Air quality throughout much of the Los Angeles Basin and the San Gabriel Valley was slightly better this morning than in recent days, but officials said it could get worse later in the day. Officials issued a smoke advisory for area near the fires.

“We’re only showing good and moderate air quality, which is somewhat of a surprise,” Sam Atwood, a spokesman for the AQMD, said just before 10 a.m.  “I think it’s gotten a little bit better because a lot of the smoke has just dispersed upward aloft, and we’re not seeing a whole lot of smoke at the ground level except for the areas close to the active fires."

More photosIn Palos Verdes, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said the fire was 35% contained, after helicopters continued to drop water on the fire through the early-morning hours. The fire burned at least 100 acres and damaged six homes, but no one was injured. [Updated at 11:12 a.m.: The fire was now 70% contained and the evacuations have been lifted.]

The Red Cross opened an evacuation center in the gym of Palos Verdes Peninsula High School. A handful of residents streamed in shortly before midnight, chatting in the parking lot and crowding around a television set showing the local news.
"I'm sick," said Mary Lopes, who has lived in the Del Cerro neighborhood for 21 years. Her husband is out of town, and she evacuated when sheriff's deputies came through her neighborhood about 9:30 p.m. and urged residents to leave on their loudspeakers. "It was scary."

She packed some family pictures and computer equipment.

She has seen the neighborhood survive many fires, but is especially worried about this one. "It just feels like it could come," she said. "It's more frightening."

Olga and Bob Jones, who have lived in the same neighborhood for 29 years, evacuated with their three dogs. A glowing red cloud of smoke and flames rose over the area as they left their home.

"I think it's going to be OK," Olga Jones said. "The firefighters are doing their job. They're just wonderful."

The dogs seemed undisturbed by the chaos Thursday night. "They're clueless," said Bob Jones.

The Terranea Resort, a luxury hotel perched on a coastal bluff that opened in June and where rooms are on sale for $264 a night, provided free hotel rooms for evacuees and their pets. "We made the decision as soon as we saw the situation on the news," spokeswoman Wendy Haase said.

Six families had checked in by 12:30 a.m. and more streamed in clutching dogs. Bellboys offered snacks for the pets.

Bernice and Michael Green and their labradoodle Amber were initally going to spend the night at the evacuation center at Palos Verdes Peninsula High, until they heard that there were free rooms at the resort. "It's got to more comfortable than sleeping on a cot," Bernice Green said.

The couple was walking their dog in the evening when they heard about the fire.

Officials told than around 9 p.m. that there was a little smoldering; they were ordered to evacuate their Amber Sky Drive home a short while later. She was optimistic that firefighters would gain the upper hand on the blaze. "They were very confident they would have it under control and contain it," she said. "That makes me feel very comfortable." 

She recalled the community had a big party for firefighters after the last major wildfire in the area three years ago. "We just really admire them," she said.

Fire crews were making headway against the fourth fire, called the Morris fire because it began in the area of Morris Dam north of Azusa and Glendora.

The fire, which started Tuesday, had consumed 1,700 acres and was 45% contained by Thursday evening.

-- Rong-Gong Lin II, with Ann M. Simmons in La Cañada Flintridge

Photo: (Top to bottom) Water-dropping helicopters hit hotspots in the canyons of Rancho Palos Verdes. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times) Fire helicopters makes runs Thursday night in Rancho Palos Verdes. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times) Flames above La Canada Flintridge moves down a canyon toward Angeles Crest Highway on Thursday. (Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times)

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