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Forecast gives new hope in battling fires

Fire crews welcome predicted cooler weather and rain, as blazes burn in Ventura County, Glendale and Walnut.

May 03, 2013|By Christine Mai-Duc, Matt Stevens and Catherine Saillant, Los Angeles Times
  • The Springs fire moves toward the Ventura County line on Pacific Coast Highway near Neptune's Net restaurant.
The Springs fire moves toward the Ventura County line on Pacific Coast Highway… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

The second day of searing temperatures and unseasonably strong Santa Ana winds kept firefighters busy Friday battling blazes that threatened homes in Ventura County, Glendale and Walnut, but the day ended with hope that cooling conditions would ease the siege.

The day was filled with tense moments as the Springs fire lurched closer to homes near Thousand Oaks and a fast-moving blaze in Glendale prompted evacuations and temporarily shut down parts of a busy freeway interchange.

Although the amount of burned acreage increased significantly Friday, the fires did not cause major damage to structures.

Photos: Springs fire roars toward homes

In Ventura County, authorities said that more than 1,000 firefighters were at work on the Springs fire, which began Thursday near Camarillo. The fire has burned more than 28,000 acres as it ran up canyons and crept within 100 feet of homes in the affluent area of Hidden Valley. The fire was only 20% contained as of Friday evening.

The fire made a harrowing reversal Friday, buffeted by stronger onshore winds than officials expected, endangering areas that had previously escaped the first wave of flames. Officials, who had estimated the fire would be under control by May 13, said they might have to revise those expectations because of Friday's conditions.

Those on the front lines were hopeful that Saturday's forecasts of a 20-degree temperature drop, higher humidity and light rain would hold true.

"Any time we can take advantage of the situation, we're going to get in there and do it," Ventura County Fire spokesman Tom Kruschke said. "If we get the advantage to move in and get aggressive on this fire and do that safely, absolutely, we're going to do that."

National Weather Service forecasters said that the temperatures — which had soared into the 90s on Friday in Ventura County, including a blistering record high of 96 degrees in Camarillo — should fall to the 60s and low 70s.

Bonnie Bartling of the weather service said there was a 10% possibility of rain Saturday evening, with an increased chance of 50% for Sunday evening into Monday. She added that a cloudy marine layer was settling over much of Southern California.

Elsewhere in the region, firefighters quickly knocked down brush fires that threatened homes in Glendale and the San Gabriel Valley suburb of Walnut.

Glendale officials credited the clearing of flammable brush and a decisive air attack as being critical in gaining the upper hand on that 75-acre blaze, which scorched the Chevy Chase Canyon area north of the 134 Freeway.

"We hit it quickly," Glendale spokesman Tom Lorenz said. The city's firefighters, Lorenz said, had been preparing and planning for brush fires due to the recent high winds.

Los Angeles County firefighters took an hour to knock down a five-acre fire that threatened homes in the 600 block of North Silver Valley Trail in Walnut, a suburb of 30,000 near Diamond Bar. Fire Inspector Quvondo Johnson said about 200 firefighters attacked the blaze on the ground and by air.

"We didn't play," he said.

In the Springs fire, about 4,000 homes and 300 commercial properties have been threatened, according to a recent tally from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, with 15 residences, 15 outbuildings and five commercial properties damaged.

Nick Schuler, a battalion chief with Cal Fire's San Diego division, said the homes most susceptible are those where brush hasn't been regularly cleared hundreds of feet away from structures as firefighters suggest.

On the flank of the fire in a Newbury Park neighborhood, where five cul-de-sacs reach into the foothills like fingers, Jonathan Neira stood on one of them that was nearly empty and silent except for the hum of a helicopter in the distance. Ash had descended from the smoke-filled sky, layering lawns and rosebushes with a gray down.

"It was frightening," said Neira, a Cal State Channel Islands graduate student. "You could see the whole ridge on fire."

More residents — in Hidden Valley and off Potrero Road, in particular — were ordered to leave Friday as evacuations in Sycamore Canyon, Deer Canyon and Yerba Buena remained in effect, said Bill Nash, a Ventura County fire spokesman. Residents have been allowed to return to the Dos Vientos area and Cal State Channel Islands.

Throughout Friday afternoon, residents in the evacuated areas scrambled to pack their cars and load horses into trailers.

In the Rancho Sierra Vista area, helicopters hurried to drop water on a burning ridge as neighbors in the nearby Banyan neighborhood readied to leave.

Laurie Deremer, 58, watched the flames and smoke peek over the ridge. "Well, this looks a little ominous," she said.

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