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With heat wave comes wildfire and high surf

Firefighters battled a 1,000-acre blaze and evacuated 150 to 250 homes in Lebec. Triple-digit temperatures pushed many people to the beach, where rip currents and high surf kept lifeguards busy.

August 25, 2010|By Robert J. Lopez, Los Angeles Times

Crews battled a brush fire Tuesday that scorched parched hillsides and threatened homes in Kern County as inland areas of Southern California sizzled through triple-digit temperatures.

The blaze had burned 1,100 acres by Tuesday night as aircraft made repeated assaults on flames that raced across ridge tops and into steep canyons near the communities of Lebec and Frazier Park, officials said.

As heat baked the region for the second consecutive day, people sought relief at beaches, where large waves and strong rip currents kept lifeguards busy making rescues. In the desert, officials used helicopters to bring thousands of gallons of water to dehydrated, federally protected wild burros trapped in a remote area near Needles, where a number of the animals had died of thirst in the 110-degree heat.

By Tuesday afternoon, temperatures reached 111 in Woodland Hills, 108 in Lancaster and 95 at Long Beach Airport, the National Weather Service said. The temperature at Long Beach Airport broke a record of 94 for the day set in 1985, the weather service said. The 108-degree reading in Lancaster beat a previous record of 106, also set in 1985.

In Orange County, temperatures reached 98 degrees in Yorba Linda and Anaheim, and 84 in Laguna Beach. In the Inland Empire, Rialto recorded 109 degrees and Hemet hit 115, the weather service said.

Forecasters said the hot weather was expected to continue Wednesday before the region begins a slow but steady cool-down.

"Thursday will be the transition day," said Bonnie Bartling of the weather service's Oxnard office. "It will still be hot, but not as hot."

In Kern County, about 200 firefighters were battling the wildfire that broke out about 12:30 p.m.

As flames threatened Lebec, officials ordered 150 to 200 homes evacuated near Chimney Canyon and Lebec Road, said Ray Pruitt, a spokesman for the Kern County Sheriff's Office. An evacuation center was set up at Frazier Mountain High School in Lebec.

By late afternoon, the winds shifted and began pushing flames toward about 60 homes in Frazier Park, where engine companies and hand crews were making a stand, fire officials said. Tuesday night, the evacuation orders were lifted for both Lebec and Frazier Park.

The strong air assault, which included sorties by a DC-10 jet carrying fire retardant and helicopters making water drops, appeared to slow down the fire's advance, said Inspector Greg Powell of the Kern County Fire Department, who was at the scene.

"It looks like it's going to be a good situation for the residents," he said.

Fire officials said crews would work through the night. The cause of the fire was under investigation.

Along the coast, some beaches were more than 30 degrees cooler than the hottest inland areas. At the Santa Monica Pier, the temperature was a comfortable 68 degrees.

Big surf and strong rip currents kept lifeguards on alert in places such as Huntington Beach, where about 30 people were rescued from the water.

"We were pretty busy," lifeguard Kevin Berry said.

The National Weather Service issued a high surf advisory for beaches in Ventura and Los Angeles counties through 11 p.m. Wednesday. The large waves were being kicked up by a powerful storm in the Southern Hemisphere.

In San Bernardino County, the wild burros died of dehydration in pursuit of water at a spring in the Piute Mountain Wilderness Area about 35 miles west of Needles, officials said. The dead animals blocked several dozen other burros from reaching the water, according to the Federal Bureau of Land Management.

A rancher alerted bureau officials, who organized the emergency airlift of water. By Tuesday afternoon, helicopters had brought in 4,000 gallons of water to fill troughs set up for the animals, the agency said.

Rusty Lee of the bureau said the rancher "saved the lives of the remaining burros."

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