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California fires endanger homes

BY PJ HELLER | OJAI, Calif. | December 22, 1999

OJAI, Calif. (Dec. 22, 1999) -- Three separate wildfires, fueled by hot, dry

and windy conditions, burned several thousand acres throughout southern

California on Wednesday. Hundreds of residents were forced to flee their


No injuries were reported in any of the fires. But several structures, including at least one home, were damaged or destroyed.

The fires threatened homes just as recovery from similar fires is being coordinated by the Shasta County Fire Interfaith Relief Effort in rural areas of the state, where some 200 homes were burned in October.

Firefighters called in air tankers and water-dropping helicopters to help battle the blazes burning in the La Canada-Flintridge and Glendale areas about 30 miles from Los Angeles, in the Ojai area in Ventura County and along the Rincon between Santa Barbara and Ventura.

At least 40 people spent the night Tuesday at a shelter opened by the American Red Cross at Nordhoff High School in Ojai. By Wednesday, most of the people had returned to their homes and the shelter was placed on standby status.

The Ojai fire consumed an estimated 3,000 acres in a rural area of mostly

ranches and orchards. A Ventura County Fire Department spokesman said one

home was destroyed and one other was damaged.

More than 350 firefighters were on the scene, along with 44 engines, two bulldozers and eight hand crews. There was no indication as of noon (PDT)

Wednesday when the fire might be contained.

Firefighters said they did not know what sparked the blaze, which erupted

around 8 p.m. Tuesday. It was fed by hot and dry conditions and pushed by

winds that at times gusted to more than 55 mph.

The Los Angeles area fire, reported around 9:45 p.m. Tuesday, charred more

than 600 acres and forced the evacuation of some residents in the La

Canada-Flintridge area when the blaze threatened their homes.

The fire forced the California Highway Patrol to close the smoke-shrouded

Glendale Freeway and sections of the Foothill and Ventura freeways.

Some 400 firefighters from Glendale, Los Angeles and other nearby

communities who battled the blaze were hampered in the efforts by gusty

winds and tinderbox conditions. A blown electrical transformer was blamed

for sparking the fire.

A smaller fire was reported Wednesday along the coast near Carpinteria,

between Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. The 2 a.m. fire forced the

evacuation of about a dozen homes.

"I grabbed all the Christmas presents I could (before leaving)," said one

resident who fled from her home.

About 150 firefighters fought the blaze, which was about 75 percent

contained by Wednesday afternoon.

"It was touch and go for awhile," said a fire department spokesman.

The fire had threatened to close down Highway 101 along the coast.

A fire disaster presents unique challenges to response groups, said Dick Eskes, a disaster resource consultant for Church World Service. With floods, tornadoes, and other natural disasters, survivors often can repair damaged structures or recover at least some possessions. But wildfires leave nothing behind but ashes.

Those total losses significantly increase recovery costs. Whereas a few thousand dollars may be enough to patch a roof or repair a foundation, Eskes estimated costs could run $25,000 to $30,000 to put a family in an adequate mobile home.

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