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Progress made on wildfire set by arsonist



Published: Mon, October 30, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Four firefighters died in the fire, and a fifth is in critical condition.

BEAUMONT, Calif. (AP) -- Firefighters aided by dying winds appeared to be winning the battle Sunday against a 63-square-mile wildfire that killed four of their own and destroyed more than 30 homes.

The 40,450-acre blaze, which authorities say was set by an arsonist, was 70 percent contained four days after blowtorch gusts overran a U.S. Forest Service crew. Four members were killed and a fifth was left clinging to life with burns over most of his body.

The blaze was still threatening a wilderness area plagued by drought and filled with dead trees, but fire officials were confident that if they could keep it out of that area, they could have it under control by Tuesday night.

"It's the bottom of the ninth, so we want to make sure we hit it out of the park and win this thing," said Mike Wakoski, an incident commander for the Forest Service.

As firefighters were getting the upper hand on that blaze, another broke out Sunday in Warner Springs, about 70 miles northeast of San Diego. That fire began about noon and quickly blackened about 100 acres, forcing the evacuation of several homes, said Capt. David Janssen of the California Department of Forestry.

More than 200 firefighters, five helicopters and an air tanker rushed to the scene to save about 14 homes in the blaze's path, which was moving east toward the Los Coyotes Indian reservation. The cause was under investigation. One firefighter was injured, though his condition was unclear Sunday afternoon.

Casualties

Church vigils were held across Southern California on Sunday for the families of the four firefighters who were killed and for firefighter Pablo Cerda, who was badly injured. Cerda, 23, was still in critical condition Sunday after surgery Friday to remove damaged skin.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he attended one of the services before stopping by a fire command center in Beaumont on Sunday afternoon to offer words of encouragement to the more than 2,800 firefighters on the front lines.

"It makes me, as governor, really proud to know that we have the best of the best firefighters and law enforcement people in the world working to put this fire out," he said.

Fire officials were still concerned Sunday with the blaze's eastern flank, which borders a wilderness area that hasn't burned in more than 30 years and has been devastated by a bark beetle infestation that has killed hundreds of trees.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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