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Firefighters on alert as Santa Anas blow through Southland

October 04, 2013|By Lisa Girion and Adolfo Flores

Firefighters responded to a series of small blazes across three counties Friday and remained on high alert as the first serious Santa Ana winds of the season blew through Southern California.

Area officials put extra fire crews on duty, patrolled through the night and moved equipment near potential burn zones as the National Weather Service issued a red-flag alert, denoting the gravest level of danger.

The forecast for warm temperatures, low humidity and high winds through the weekend created what the weather service called the "highest wildfire threat we have seen in years."

The fires Friday began about 3:30 p.m. in Oxnard, where authorities responded to a structure blaze on South Oxnard Boulevard. No injuries were reported, said Oxnard Police Department Watch Cmdr. Marty Meyers.

About 90 minutes later, a second fire broke out in brush along Santiago Creek in the city of Orange. The fire jumped the creek and moved toward the Lake Condos development before an air attack put it out, officials said.

A few trees caught fire, but no other damage was reported.

The cause was under investigation.

"Our helicopter did an outstanding job keeping the fire away from houses," said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi. "It saved property."

City of Orange spokesman Paul Sitkoff said the department would remain on patrol "throughout the evening as the fire risk is still high throughout the county."

About the same time, third fire raced up a brushy hillside toward homes in Walnut. The Los Angeles County Fire Department dispatched two teams of engines, as well as water-dropping helicopters, and extinguished the fire short of the homes, said Michael Pittman, a Los Angeles County Fire Department dispatch supervisor.

Two fixed-wing SuperScoopers headed to the fire were sent back before they arrived, he said.

Pittman said fire department staffing was 20% to 30% higher than usual, keeping additional firefighting equipment ready on short notice over the weekend, because of the forecast for increased fire conditions. 

The National Weather Service said it expects the strongest winds in Los Angeles and Ventura counties and warned that some mountain passes could see gusts as high as 80 mph.


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