Relieved residents of one California coastal community returned home late this morning even as evacuations kept hundreds of others away from fires burning in the mountains of the Angeles National Forest above Los Angeles.
"Last night, it just blew up," Dianne Cahir, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service, said of the 1,500-acre blaze named the Station Fire. "The conditions are ripe: dry, heavy brush and no rain."
Voluntary evacuations are in place for 873 homes in La Canada Flintridge, northeast of downtown L.A. About 750 firefighters battled the blaze in steep, rugged terrain. "It hasn't burned in 60 years," Cahir said.
There is zero percent containment.
With sweltering heat and 8 percent humidity, the fire is moving quickly in two directions, into the forest and toward homes. Winds could also pick up. "It's really bad out there," said Cahir, who had just returned from a few hours' rest at her home. "The acreage is really going to grow."
Meanwhile, about 1,500 people returned to their homes in the Palos Verdes Peninsula before noon today. Located southeast of downtown Los Angeles, the peninsula boasts multimillion-dollar homes nestled among its canyons, many with dramatic ocean views.
A fast-moving overnight blaze charred 230 acres and is now 70 percent contained. The fire damaged six homes, but none were destroyed.
Kim van Biene, who lives in the Del Cerro neighborhood of Rancho Palos Verdes, did not pay much attention when she first heard sirens outside. But a neighbor then called with an alert about the fire. When she went outside at 9 p.m Thursday night, police were cruising the street and announcing the mandatory evacuation on a megaphone.
Van Biene could not see any flames, but started to see smoke. She grabbed her dog and cat and drove to a friend's house on the other side of the hill.
"The firemen are just amazing," said van Biene, who also evacuated during a 2005 fire near her home. "They get these things under control really quickly. It could have been devastating."
When she returned home in this morning, ash lay in the yard and the house smelled of smoke but it was intact.
Insp. Frederic Stowers of the L.A. County Fire Department said, "We've completed the containment of the perimeter. Now, we're working on the interior portion."
The wildfires and two others in Southern California prompted California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to proclaim a state of emergency in Los Angeles County.
Firefighters will not get much of a reprieve going into the weekend. Triple-digit temperatures are expected in much of the region and the National Weather Service cautioned about hot and dry conditions for the next few days.
A red flag warning is in effect for the mountains and adjacent foothills of Southern California until late Saturday night, with single-digit humidity expected.
Calif. Fires Cause Power Outages
The Palos Verdes area is still experiencing power outages. The fire is thought to have started in Portuguese Bend, about 2 miles north of the Trump National Golf Club, a public course perched above the Pacific Ocean.
Lili Amini, assistant general manager, said power went out late Thursday night. The club's restaurant, usually packed on a Friday for lunch and dinner, is shut down and Amini said there is a substantial impact on their business.
But the fire had not kept away golfers. Amini noted that about 50 people were out playing, even as firefighting helicopters scooped up water nearby from the ocean and three lakes on the golf course.
There are 17 active large fires burning nationally, all in the Western United States, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
"Overall, we've had a very calm fire season," said Ken Frederick, a spokesman for the agency. "California's been dry but mostly dodged the bullet."
To date this year, 5.2 million acres have burned across the country, fewer than the 5.6 million acres that burn in a 10-year average.
"Fire is a natural force," Frederick said. "It's like insects killing trees. We may not like it, but it's part of nature. It's part of the Western U.S. fabric of the lands."