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In La Cañada, residents watch the flames and prepare to evacuate

August 28, 2009 | 11:27 am

Joanne Psaltis stood barefoot on Summit Crest Drive, a cul de sac off Angeles Crest Highway where she has lived for the last eight years. Her children -- Troy, 9, and Sophia, 5 -- clung to her leg.

"ResidentLook there," Psaltis excitedly told the children as a helicopter began to drop fire retardant on nearby hills ablaze in orange.

Last night Psaltis had sent the kids to her mother's house in Glendale as leaping flames became increasingly visible from her La Cañada Flintridge backyard. She packed up the family's three cars with personal belongings, including important documents such as insurance papers, and anxiously awaited official word on whether the voluntary evacuation order would be made mandatory.

It was not.

So this morning she brought the kids home. Later she went down to the store to buy water and coffee to offer to the firefighters who had stood guard in her neighborhood all night. 

She encountered two of them when she ventured outside to assess the situation at 2.30 a.m. They were asleep on the pavement. Psaltis said she felt much more at ease today because the wind had calmed significantly.

Rod Dryden said he arrived from Glendale at his mother-in-law's home on nearby Baytree Drive last night to help the frail 85-year-old woman evacuate.

"I hope all this fuel disappears before the gusty winds come up again later," said Dryen, 56, as he stood on the street corner clutching a cup of coffee and watching the helicopters that were dousing the flames. Dryden, an artist, said he had experienced other fires over the years and felt confident in the firefighters' ability to hold the line.

"I won't pack up until all these houses are on fire," said Dryden, pointing to some structures across the street.

Omar Moheize wasn't taking any chances.

The civil engineer who has lived on Baytree Road for eight years, said he sent his wife, sister and 14-year-old daughter to a hotel in Pasadena last night, well before the automated voluntary phone evacuation order came at around 10 p.m. Important documents were packed into the car.

"When they say we should get out of here, I will get out of here," said Moheize, 50, who was experiencing his first fire. "Last night, I was definitely more nervous. We couldn't tell how far it was, or how close it was. You know, it jumps."

Eleven fire trucks crammed the street.

"They were ready for it to come all the way," said Moheize. "This morning, I have a little more comfort, because the trees are not moving. Right now, I feel at ease."

-- Ann M. Simmons in La Cañada Flintridge

Photo: La Cañada resident John Petersen sits in front of his house Friday, staying home from work in case he has to evacuate his family.

Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

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