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Fires force evacuations in La Cañada, Palos Verdes Penisula

Record heat helps fuel blazes throughout Southland.

August 28, 2009|Seema Mehta and Robert J. Lopez

Four large wildfires blazed across Southern California late Thursday, destroying several structures on the Palos Verdes Peninsula and prompting evacuations there and in a densely populated area of La Canada Flintridge.

At least 1,700 firefighters were battling fires in Portuguese Bend on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, in Hemet, just north of La Canada Flintridge and above Azusa. In each case, the fires were fueled by dense, dry vegetation and record high temperatures, according to authorities.

In the Portuguese Bend area, the fast-moving fire charred at least 80 acres, knocked out power and prompted an unspecified number of evacuations, beginning in at least three neighborhoods: on Portuguese Bend Road, Amber Sky Drive and Crest Road, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said.

In La Canada Flintridge, in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, evacuations of about 500 homes were ordered around 10 p.m. in the neighborhoods along Vista del Valle Road, and an evacuation center was set up at Crescenta Valley High School.

"The fire is making a run. It's spreading fast," said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Dianne Cahir.

The fire, which nearly doubled in size to more than 500 acres by Thursday night, was also threatening the Angeles Crest Rangers Station.

Earlier in the day, authorities said the fire posed little danger to homeowners, mostly because winds were light. By Thursday evening, however, one flank had changed and reversed direction, coming within three-quarters of a mile of homes.

The Hemet fire had burned 400 acres in the San Bernardino National Forest and did not appear to be threatening homes, authorities 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 Morris fire, which started Tuesday, had consumed 1,700 acres and was 45% contained by Thursday evening.

In the Palos Verdes blaze, an evacuation center was set up at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, authorities said. A center has also been set up for animals at Ernie J. Howlett Park on Hawthorne Boulevard.

At the entrance to the Portuguese Bend gated community, residents were shooing away gawkers and keeping roads clear for fire vehicles.

On the ocean side of Palos Verdes Drive, spectator Kim Francis checked in on some of her friends. "I've never seen so many people, it's like the whole community is out here," Francis said.

"We're keeping our fingers crossed that we don't lose any homes or any people or any animals. It's just so beautiful."

Resident Lew Enstedt, 51, a musician, watched as aircraft dumped water on the flames late Thursday night. "It's burning pretty good," he said. Enstedt said he and his wife had not yet decided to evacuate. "They're dropping water, it seems like there's a lot of resources up there."

He and wife had evacuated in the face of fire in 2005. He said he took his music recordings and computer files, and his wife took their four cats.

A pall of smoke blanketed the San Gabriel Valley for much of the day Thursday, as the region experienced record-setting heat.

Records set in 1981 were broken in several areas, the National Weather Service said.

In Oxnard, the mercury hit 89, breaking the record of 83 degrees set 28 years earlier.

The temperature at Long Beach Airport reached 103, breaking the previous record by one degree. That record was set in 1981.

Downtown Los Angeles reached 101, two degrees below its previous record for the day. Chatsworth and Pomona hit 107, the Weather Service said.

The hot weather is being caused by a high-pressure ridge above Nevada and eastern California that is causing a warm, offshore air flow.

"That hot air comes in from the desert and just heats everything up," said Joe Sirard, a meteorologist with the weather service's Oxnard office.

He said the heat is expected to last until Sunday. Then temperatures will drop but will still be several degrees above the normal highs of 70s in the beach areas and high 80s to low 90s inland, Sirard said.

--

robert.lopez@latimes.com

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