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La Cañada fire spreads toward Altadena; Big Tujunga Canyon Road closed

August 28, 2009 |  2:42 pm

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed a state of emergency in Los Angeles County today as firefighters continued to battle an out-of-control brush fire in the La Cañada Flintridge area that was spreading toward Altadena. On the western flank of the fire, Big Tujunga Canyon Road has been closed.

More photosThe Station fire in Angeles National Forest was burning near homes on the north side of La Cañada Flintridge. The fire spread southeast overnight, jumping Highway 2 and into the Arroyo Seco area. 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 at least 1,500 acres and was 10% contained.

The fire today has moved farther southeast, toward the western edge of Altadena, though officials said no evacuations have been ordered yet in that community, and has spread to the northwest in the forest.

"It's growing," said Dianne Cahir, spokeswoman for Angeles National Forest.

On Starlight Crescent Drive, the southern border of the voluntary evacuation zone in La Cañada Flintridge, helicopters could be seen picking up water from a pond at La Cañada Country Club, flying across a gully and dumping it on flames spreading across a nearby ridge. A few dozen residents pressed against the country club fence to take pictures and wondered aloud whether firefighters would get the blaze under control soon.

Nabila Idroos, 60, a stay-at-home mom, stood near the fence with a towel pressed to her face next to her car packed with valuables — passports, jewelry, insurance documents, laptops and the Koran. She and her husband, a doctor, raised their children in the neighborhood.

“How much can you take when you live in a home for 20 years?” Idroos said. “Hopefully no structures get destroyed. That’s all I’m praying for. Things can get replaced, but not lives.”

Idroos said she lives on nearby Greenwood Street, an area under voluntary evacuation. She said she left home with her husband briefly last night and stopped by La Cañada High School, but returned a few hours later.

“We’ve been here 20 years and I’ve never seen something like this,” Idroos said.

Though several fires were burning in the area, air quality throughout much of the Los Angeles Basin and the San Gabriel Valley was slightly better this morning than in recent days. However, officials said it could get worse later in the day. A smoke advisory was issued for areas near the fires.

“We’re only showing good and moderate air quality, which is somewhat of a surprise,” Sam Atwood, a spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, 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 photosA fire on the Palos Verdes Peninsula was 70% contained, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said, after helicopters continued to drop water. The fire burned at least 100 acres and damaged six homes, but no one was injured. Evacuation orders have been lifted.

The Red Cross opened an evacuation center Thursday 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 tuned to 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. urging residents to leave on their loudspeakers. "It was scary."

She packed some family pictures and computer equipment.

She said 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 Thursday evening.

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

The Terranea Resort, a luxury hotel perched on a coastal bluff that opened in June and whose rooms usually go for $264 a night, provided free lodging 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 initially 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 and Alexandra Zavis in La Cañada Flintridge

Photos, from top: Fire helicopters makes runs Thursday night over Rancho Palos Verdes; Flames move down a canyon above La Cañada Flintridge toward Angeles Crest Highway. Credits: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times; Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times

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