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Backfire is set to keep flames from reaching foothill communities

Investigators also start checking dozens of tips in search for the arsonist who set the Station fire, which has burned more than 160,000 acres and is 71% contained.

September 11, 2009|Robert J. Lopez and Richard Winton

Crews battling the mammoth Station fire launched a crucial backfire operation Thursday as investigators followed up on dozens of tips in their hunt for the arsonist suspected of igniting the deadly blaze.

Fire crews, taking advantage of a lull in area winds, burned several hundred acres of explosive chaparral to help control the fire's southeastern flank, officials said. The operation, which removed fuel from sun-baked southern slopes, was designed to keep the wildfire from burning toward foothill communities in Arcadia, Duarte and Sierra Madre.

"We want to make sure we're in control," said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Nathan Judy.

The blaze killed two Los Angeles County firefighters whose truck plummeted several hundred feet down a ravine.

By Thursday evening, the fire had consumed more than 160,000 acres and was 71% contained, officials said. They said the cost of fighting the wildfire had reached $77.8 million.

Officials from the Forest Service, the county and several cities including Los Angeles were expected to sign a cost-sharing agreement today, said Debby Prouty, the county's assistant chief of financial management.

Authorities, meanwhile, said detectives had received tips from about 50 people regarding suspected arsonists.

"We will check out every piece of information very carefully," said Lt. Liam Gallagher of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's homicide unit.

Investigators will treat every tip and piece of information seriously, he said, because the smallest shred of evidence could lead to other clues.

Detectives want to speak to people who were near the point of origin on Angeles Crest Highway just north of La Canada Flintridge at about 3:30 p.m. Aug. 26.

County and state officials have offered a $150,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the arsonist. Anyone with information is asked to call detectives at (323) 890-5500. A source told The Times that investigators believe a substance found near the point of origin helped ignite the fire.

While some firefighters were out battling the Station fire, it consumed cabins where they lived near fire stations in Mill Creek and Big Tujunga Canyon, officials said

"Four of our firefighters and one of our other employees lost everything," said Linda Steinberg, a Forest Service administrator in charge of the Los Angeles River Ranger District employees group.

She said a firefighter support group known as the "Stump People" will hold a fundraiser from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at McDonald's on Sierra Highway near the 14 Freeway in Acton.

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robert.lopez@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

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