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La Cañada fire spreads in three directions, forcing more evacuations [Updated]

August 29, 2009 |  6:19 am

A fire in the La Cañada Flintridge area grew overnight, prompting more evacuations and leaving residents along foothill communities on edge.

The Station fire has burned more than 5,500 acres in various directions. One leg of the fire was moving southeast toward Altadena. No evacuations have yet been ordered in that community or the nearby Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Another leg was moving north, and officials said they are trying to prevent it from getting to the communications centers at Mt. Wilson. A western leg was moving toward Big Tujunga Canyon. 

[Updated at 8 a.m.: The fire was 5% contained, 751 firefighters were on scene and 1,800 homes were threatened.]

Firefighters said the blaze was slow but stubborn, fueled by hot conditions but moving at a modest pace because there were no winds.

Authorities issued mandatory evacuation orders for scores of homes in the area of La Cañada Flintridge Golf Course. The orders include Starlight Crest Drive, Greenridge Drive, Forest Green Drive and Ridge Court, said Sgt. Daniel Stanley of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The communities are east of the Angeles Crest Highway. 

Residents were asked to assemble their families and leave the area. An evacuation center has been set up at La Cañada High School, at 4463 Oak Grove Drive, where the Red Cross will help those from the evacuation area.

The fire had burned erratically along steep slope and thick vegetation. In some cases, the vegetation has grown to heights of 15 to 20 feet and has not been thinned by fire in almost 40 years, authorities said.

Residents began to slowly stream into La Cañada High School early into the morning. 

The worry was evident on Sonia Castellon's face as she made her way into the makeshift evacuation center. 

"I was trying to keep calm, keep it together. But the moment you leave your home it's hard," the 46-year-old dentist said as she began to tear up. 

Castellon said she had packed a large amount of valuables throughout the day just in case, since she said the fire was getting worse near her Greenridge Drive home. She packed away pictures, jewelry, cash, and discs and cards with family memories -- things that cannot be replaced. 

"We had two hours from when they called, and it was already after 11 [p.m.] when we got the call. I'm scared of not having a house when we go back."

Having to evacuate was especially tough for Castellon's daughter, Carla Torres. They were in the midst of preparing for her sweet 16 birthday party. Although she hopes the party at the Castaway Restaurant and Banquet Center in Burbank offers a temporary relief, Torres said she didn't see herself waking up on her birthday at her high school.

"It's really scary right now," Torres said.

More than 2,700 firefighters and a small air force of air tankers and helicopters managed to stop the blazes before they swept into hillside housing tracts. But smoky air from the fires continued to create unhealthful conditions in parts of the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys. 

In all, nearly 10,000 acres had burned in the four major fires by Friday evening. In addition to those wildfires, two separate blazes scorched about 1,000 acres in sprawling Camp Pendelton in San Diego County. Neither fire threatened structures. 

An air assault through the night helped bring the Palos Verdes Peninsula fire under 90% containment Friday. Expensive homes in Rolling Hills and Rancho Palos Verdes had been threatened, with flames lapping at the eaves of some residences.

The blaze consumed 230 acres.

In steep terrain above Hemet, a San Bernardino National Forest wildfire was just 10% contained, but was not posing an immediate threat to structures, although 2,200 acres had burned. A mandatory evacuation order in the Willowbrook Road area was lifted, but voluntary evacuation advisories remained for Bee Canyon. 

The Morris fire, which started five miles north of Azusa near San Gabriel Canyon Road, blackened more than 2,000 acres and was 85% contained, officials said. The fire was burning in mostly open mountain country, but voluntary evacuations were in effect for the North Fork of the San Gabriel River.

The fires blanketed the Los Angeles Basin with thick, foul-smelling smoke.

The Los Angeles County Public Health Department warned the public to avoid outdoor activities. Air quality deteriorated throughout the day as temperatures climbed, becoming unhealthful for sensitive people in western San Bernardino and Riverside counties as well as in the San Fernando Valley.

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy in La Cañada Flintridge