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Fires Char Rugged Hills as Southland Heat Soars

May 05, 1987|TED THACKREY JR. | Times Staff Writer

Brush fires erupted and temperatures soared on the hillsides of Southern California on Monday, but high humidity and variable winds helped firefighters control the flames without major injuries or damage to dwellings.

A fast-moving fire broke out Monday afternoon, consuming more than 100 acres of dry ground cover in the steep and roadless terrain of the Verdugo Hills near the corner of Sunset Canyon Drive and Elmwood Avenue in Burbank.

"It's in real steep in there," Burbank Fire Battalion Chief Ken Whittenkiend said. "There's a lot of housing in the vicinity, but the fire started right up the hill above the houses and it moved uphill--and away from them."

Flames Near Some Homes

He said a few people who live near the spot where the fire began evacuated their homes for a time in the afternoon and an arm of the fire burned to within a few feet of one dwelling, but most returned in an hour or two while others watched the wall of flames retreat from their front porches.

"It was frightening," said Harold Harmon, who lives in the 1000 block of Elmwood Avenue, "and beautiful at the same time. I stayed because it seemed to be going the other way, but I was ready to run if it changed its mind."

More than 20 engine companies from the Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena, South Pasadena, Monrovia and Los Angeles City and County fire departments aided by four Los Angeles City and County water-dropping helicopters fought the blaze, which continued to burn uncontrolled into the evening hours, sending up a plume of smoke visible for several miles.

The sight of helicopters filling their tanks at Brand Park in Glendale drew so many sightseers that Glendale police units were sent to handle traffic in the vicinity.

By 8 p.m., Burbank authorities said the fire had been fully controlled, but patrols remained on the scene through the night for possible new flare-ups.

Investigators Look for Clues

Burbank Fire Capt. Lynn Johnson said the cause of the blaze, which evidently began just beside a roadway, was under investigation and arson was "a definite possibility."

Meanwhile, six Los Angeles City Fire Department engine companies took just 30 minutes to extinguish a blaze that blackened about five acres of level brushland near the corner of Quinta and Uhea roads in Woodland Hills.

And Riverside County firefighters spent most of the day beating down surviving hot spots of a brush fire that broke out Sunday afternoon and consumed about 75 acres in the Green River Drive area of Corona, near the Riverside Freeway.

Fire dispatcher Christy Makely said firefighters had difficulty cutting a line around the blaze as it burned in rugged terrain inaccessible to vehicles.

"They had to hike to the fire from the road carrying their tools," Makely said.

Another fire that broke out Sunday--in the Winchester area southwest of Hemet--was controlled by midnight, but not before consuming 65 acres of brush.

No injuries were reported in either of the Riverside County fires.

Forecasters said the hot, humid weather could last the rest of the week.

Shortly after noon, the temperature at Los Angeles Civic Center peaked at 93 degrees, tying the record set in 1928, while relative humidity ranged from 18% to 81%. Forecasters called for a high in the upper 80s or lower 90s today.

Temperature records were set in Redding, where the high of 95 topped the old record of 94, set in 1966, and in Sacramento, where the high of 94 topped the previous mark of 89 set in 1944. The weather service said the high of 103 in Palm Springs made that city the hottest spot in the nation Monday.

"It's probably going to be this way all week long," said Cary Schudy, meteorologist-spokesman for Earth Environment Service, a private forecasting service based in San Francisco.

"The heat isn't too unusual for this time of year. You have high pressure at upper levels in the atmosphere. The humidity, however, is due to the lack of a strong sea breeze--or any breeze at all, for that matter.

"The air that came in from northern Mexico with last week's thundershowers is still there in Southern California, and it still has a lot of moisture. So when it gets hot, you notice it."

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