Calif. crews scramble to keep flames from reaching homes


Associated Press

LAKE ELSINORE, CALIF.

Firefighters worked Friday to keep a growing Southern California forest fire that is feeding on dry brush and trees from reaching foothill neighborhoods a day after flames roared to new ferocity and came within yards of homes.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Orange and Riverside counties as the fire carved its way along ridges in the Cleveland National Forest.

Some hillsides were allowed to burn under the watchful eyes of firefighters as a way to reduce fuel and make it harder for flames to jump roadways into communities if winds pick up again.

Aircraft dropped liquid that suppresses flames as people sprayed their houses with water from garden hoses when the blaze south of Los Angeles flared again Thursday evening, propelled by 20-mph gusts.

Shannon Hicks, 59, defied an evacuation order and watched in awe as firefighters faced down a storm of flames that descended toward her street in the city of Lake Elsinore.

“It looked like a tornado. The flames were just twirling and twirling,” she said. “I thought, there’s no way they’re saving my house. But somehow they did.”

Hundreds more firefighters joined the battle, bringing the total to 1,200. The so-called Holy Fire has chewed through 28 square miles of dense chaparral and is only partially contained.

It’s one of nearly 20 blazes, which is seeing earlier, longer and more destructive wildfire seasons because of drought, warmer weather attributed to climate change and home construction deeper into forests.

Firefighters aided by cooler weather have made good progress against a blaze burning for nearly a month near Yosemite National Park in the northern part of the state. The park is set to reopen Tuesday after a two-week closure, park spokesman Scott Gediman said Friday.

Visitors should expect limited hours and visitor services next week as the park returns to normal, he said. The blaze didn’t reach the heart of the park and instead burned in remote areas, making roads inaccessible and polluting the area with smoke.

Officials also gained more control over two other major Northern California wildfires, including the largest in recorded state history.

In the south, Cleveland National Forest officials tweeted that the flames outside Los Angeles were growing as fast as crews can build lines to contain them.

The fire was deliberately set. A resident of the community of Holy Jim Canyon in the national forest has been charged with arson and other crimes and appeared in a jailhouse courtroom Friday.

Forrest Clark, 51, made several outbursts, claiming his life was being threatened. A court commissioner postponed his arraignment until Aug. 17 and ordered bail to remain at $1 million.

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