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Firefighting choppers resume assault on Palos Verdes, La Canada blazes at daybreak [Updated]

August 28, 2009 |  6:26 am

Stationfire [Updated at 7:47 a.m.: With daylight, the fire department launched a new aerial assault on both the Palos Verdes and La Cañada fires, hoping water-dropping choppers could knock down what's left of the fire. But officials worried about another day of arid conditions, including triple-digit temperatures forecast in some areas.]

Firefighters made modest progress overnight on two brush fires that threatened upscale homes in the Palos Verdes Peninsula and La Cañada Flintridge, but officials stressed the danger has not passed.

The two blazes were the most serious of four wildfires burning in Southern California, fueled by hot, dry conditions that are expected to continue today and through the weekend.

In Palos Verdes, more than 1,000 people had been evacuated, but firefighters said some of those evacuation orders might be lifted this morning. 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.

Fire officials plan to make a damage assessment. Fire Capt. Mike Brown told KTLA News that three homes were damaged and some out buildings were also burned, but that a full list won't be available until daylight. 

In the Station fire in the Angeles National Forest, firefighters cut breaks above La Cañada Flintridge in an effort to stop flames before they reached hundreds of homes in neighborhoods near Angeles Crest Highway, the U.S. Forest Service said. [Updated at 6:36 a.m.: 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.]

Around midnight, flames were about three-quarters of a mile from residential neighborhoods, the Forest Service said. Hundreds evacuated their homes.

An evacuation center, which had been designated at Crescenta Valley High School, was moved to La Cañada High School, the Forest Service said.

In Riverside County, the fire near Hemet had burned 600 acres in the San Bernardino National Forest but did not appear to be threatening homes, authorities 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.

In the Palos Verdes Peninsula, 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 her hard drive, family pictures, laptop and a computer.

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 right now for $264 a night, opened their hotel for free to evacuees and their pets. "We made the decision as soon as we saw the situation on the news," said spokeswoman Wendy Haase.

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

 Bernice and Michael Green and their labradoodle Amber were initally going to spend the night at the evacuation center at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School when they heard that there were free rooms available 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. 

-- Seema Mehta in Palos Verdes Peninsula, Robert J. Lopez in Los Angeles and Richard Winton in La Cañada Flintridge

Photo: Firefighters Mike Scott, from left, Armando Pina and Joe Valencia walk up Angeles Crest Highway above La Cañada on Friday morning to assess the fire. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

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