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Smoke chokes SCV skies

Posted: August 28, 2009 10:01 p.m.
Updated: August 29, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Smoke and ash from local brush fires blanketed the Santa Clarita Valley in a yellow haze on Friday that tinted the sun orange as it reflects off the windshields of cars traveling northbound on Golden Valley Road near Centre Pointe Parkway in Canyon Country.

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Smoke blanketed the Santa Clarita Valley as a wildfire some 30 miles away threatened homes above La Cañada Flintridge on Friday, sending 1,500 residents fleeing the flames.

Ash from the blaze fell in Canyon Country as local schools canceled outdoor activities due to the brown pall.

"It has this ominous feeling, the way it is clouding up," said Valencia resident Paul Zarou, who was out running errands Friday.

"It's casting this harsh feeling of reality having the fire so close," he said as he headed into a bookstore.

Gary Castro, 74, of Canyon Country said he was more concerned about the stuff he was breathing.

"Nobody likes poor air quality," he said. "It's not healthy. It has a bad effect on your lungs. It's like smoking - shortens your whole life."

The Santa Clarita Valley remained under a red flag fire warning due to high temperatures, low humidity and upcoming Santa Ana winds, said Los Angeles County fire Inspector Steve Zermeno.

A county Public Health Department official warned residents to avoid unnecessary outdoor activities where smoke is visible or can be smelled.

The 8-square-mile fire in the Angeles National Forest above La Cañada Flintridge was among the most dangerous in a siege of wildfires charring thousands of acres of brush from Southern California north to the central coast region and east to the Sierra Nevada. Triple-digit heat and very low humidity made many areas ripe for burning.

The fire, which was only 5 percent contained Friday night, was moving eastward toward Altadena, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Stanton Florea.

Hundreds of La Cañada Flintridge residents remained evacuated Friday night.

A major goal was to keep the fire from spreading up Mount Wilson, where many of the region's broadcast and communications antennas and the historic Mount Wilson Observatory are located, Florea said.

"We're boxed up and ready to go," said La Cañada Flintridge resident Steve Buntich, watching helicopters line up to siphon water from a golf course reservoir. He said his wife and children had evacuated to a friend's house for several hours, but had since returned home.

Ash fell from the sky and huge billows of smoke rose from the mountains as Elias Yidonoy, 62, and his wife prepared to leave their La Cañada Flintridge home.

Their minivan was loaded with suitcases filled with clothing, documents and photographs.

"It's wait and see," said Yidonoy, who with his wife had also left their home for several hours overnight and then returned.

The foothill residents were among more than a thousand Californians chased from their homes by the threat of wildfires.

A fire in Palos Verdes Peninsula roared to life Thursday night and spread rapidly up canyons in the city of Rancho Palos Verdes. As many as 1,500 people fled as hundreds of firefighters rushed to protect homes in the fire's path in adjacent Rolling Hills Estates.

"The fire was stopped right at the backyards of those homes," county fire Chief Deputy John Tripp told a morning news conference.

Calm, windless conditions allowed water-dropping helicopters with spotlights to work much of the night. Six homes received minor exterior damage, and the only structures destroyed were an outbuilding and gazebo. No injuries were reported.

To the north in the state's coastal midsection, a nearly 8-square-mile fire threatening Pinnacles National Monument kept 100 homes under evacuation orders near the Monterey County town of Soledad.

The blaze, only 15 percent contained, was started by agricultural fireworks used to scare animals away from crops.

In the southern part of Monterey County, firefighters had 100 percent containment of a 5¼-square-mile fire that had threatened 20 ranch homes.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency Friday in Los Angeles and Monterey counties.

"It's fire season, clearly," he said. "There's tremendous amount of heat all over the state."

A nearly 3½-square-mile fire in Yosemite National Park was 10 percent contained, said staff member Erik Skinrud.

The Mariposa County Sheriff's Office ordered guests and staff at the Yosemite View Lodge, just outside the park's western gate, to evacuate Friday afternoon due to the fire. People without lodging were offered beds in a shelter in Mariposa staffed by the Red Cross.

Residents of the nearby community of El Portal watched as water-dropping helicopters refilled from the Merced River.

Park spokeswoman Kari Cobb said officials closed a campground and a portion of Highway 120, anticipating that the fire would spread north toward Tioga Road, the highest elevation route through the Sierra. The number of firefighters was expected to double over the weekend to 1,000.

Southeast of Los Angeles in Riverside County, a 1½-square-mile fire in the San Bernardino National Forest was 5 percent contained. Temperatures reached 106 degrees in the region.


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