California crews scramble to keep flames from reaching homes

August 10, 2018 by Marcio Sanchez And Amanda Lee Myers
California crews scramble to keep flames from reaching homes
King Bass, 6, left, sits and watches the Holy Fire burn from on top of his parents' car as his sister Princess, 5, rests her head on his shoulder Thursday night, Aug. 9, 2018 in Lake Elsinore, Calif. More than a thousand firefighters battled to keep a raging Southern California forest fire from reaching foothill neighborhoods Friday before the expected return of blustery winds that drove the flames to new ferocity a day earlier. (AP Photo/Patrick Record)

Firefighters worked Friday to keep a growing Southern California forest fire that is feeding on dry brush and trees from reaching foothill neighborhoods a day after flames roared to new ferocity and came within yards of homes.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Orange and Riverside counties as the carved its way along ridges in the Cleveland National Forest.

Some hillsides were allowed to burn under the watchful eyes of firefighters as a way to reduce fuel and make it harder for to jump roadways into communities if winds pick up again.

Aircraft dropped liquid that suppresses flames as people sprayed their houses with water from garden hoses when the blaze south of Los Angeles flared again Thursday evening, propelled by 20-mph (30-kph) gusts.

Shannon Hicks, 59, defied an evacuation order and watched in awe as firefighters faced down a storm of flames that descended toward her street in the city of Lake Elsinore.

"It looked like a tornado. The flames were just twirling and twirling," she said. "I thought, there's no way they're saving my house. But somehow they did."

Hundreds more firefighters joined the battle, bringing the total to 1,200. The so-called Holy Fire has chewed through 28 square miles (72 square kilometers) of dense chaparral and is only partially contained.

California crews scramble to keep flames from reaching homes
A firefighter lights a back burn while battling the Hat Fire, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, near Fall River Mills, Calif. (AP Photo/John Locher)

It's one of nearly 20 blazes across the state, which is seeing earlier, longer and more destructive wildfire seasons because of drought, warmer weather attributed to climate change and home construction deeper into forests.

Firefighters aided by cooler weather have made good progress against a blaze burning for nearly a month near Yosemite National Park in the northern part of the state. The park was set to reopen Tuesday after a two-week closure, park spokesman Scott Gediman said Friday.

Visitors should expect limited hours and visitor services next week as the park returns to normal, he said. The blaze didn't reach the heart of the park and instead burned in remote areas, making roads inaccessible and polluting the area with smoke.

The closure dealt a financial blow to Yosemite at the height of the summer season and caused upheaval for thousands of tourists whose summer trips were canceled.

Officials also gained more control over two other major Northern California wildfires, including the largest in recorded state history.

California crews scramble to keep flames from reaching homes
The Holy Fire burns near homes in the Cleveland National Forest in Lake Elsinore, Calif., Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

In the south, Cleveland National Forest officials tweeted that the flames outside Los Angeles were growing as fast as crews can build lines to contain them.

"We continue to actively engage, but cannot get ahead of the fire," the statement said.

Teresita Reyes was among some 20,000 people forced to evacuate, saying she was attending a wedding Wednesday when she received the order. The 51-year-old state health inspector congratulated the couple and left quietly for her house in the city of Lake Elsinore to grab important documents.

Since then, Reyes and her husband have been staying at a hotel with a faulty air conditioner while their three dogs and cat are holed up at the family's plumbing business.

"It is nerve-wracking and unreal," she said. "We were on pins and needles for a little while there because it got real close."

California crews scramble to keep flames from reaching homes
A family sits along the shore of Lake Elsinore as they watch the Holy Fire burn in the distance on Thursday night, Aug. 9, 2018 in Lake Elsinore, Calif. More than a thousand firefighters battled to keep a raging Southern California forest fire from reaching foothill neighborhoods Friday before the expected return of blustery winds that drove the flames to new ferocity a day earlier. (AP Photo/Patrick Record)

The fire was deliberately set. A resident of the small community of Holy Jim Canyon in the national forest has been charged with arson and other crimes and appeared in a jailhouse courtroom Friday.

Forrest Clark, 51, made several outbursts, claiming his life was being threatened. A court commissioner postponed his arraignment until Aug. 17 and ordered bail to remain at $1 million.

"May I pay for that immediately?" asked Clark, who could face life in prison if convicted.

At one point, Clark covered his face with his long hair and later stared directly at a camera providing a video feed to reporters outside the courtroom.

Michael Milligan, chief of the Holy Jim Volunteer Fire Department, has told the Orange County Register that Clark had a decade-long feud with neighbors and had sent him threatening emails last week, including one that said, "This place will burn."

California crews scramble to keep flames from reaching homes
The Holy Fire burns in the Cleveland National Forest at a hillside near homes in Lake Elsinore, Calif., Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

The fire—named for the canyon where it started—destroyed a dozen cabins after it broke out Monday. Firefighters were trying to keep flames away from Santiago Peak, where critical communication infrastructure is located.

Crews turned a corner in their battle against Northern California's Mendocino Complex Fire, the largest-ever in California, getting it halfway contained. The fire more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Sacramento has destroyed more than 100 homes and blackened an area about the size of Los Angeles.

Near the Northern California city of Redding, the year's deadliest fire was nearly half-surrounded and was burning into remote and rugged forest land.

California crews scramble to keep flames from reaching homes
Traffic makes their way south on I-15 as ash from the Holy Fire fills the air on Aug. 9, 2018 in Lake Elsinore, Calif. More than a thousand firefighters battled to keep a raging Southern California forest fire from reaching foothill neighborhoods Friday before the expected return of blustery winds that drove the flames to new ferocity a day earlier. (AP Photo/Patrick Record)

The fires all grew explosively in the past two weeks as winds whipped the flames through forest and rural areas full of timber and brush that is bone-dry from years of drought and a summer of record-breaking heat.

Air quality has been another problem. A smoky haze stretches from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range to Sacramento and hovers over the San Francisco Bay Area, with most major population centers in between enduring air quality that's considered dangerous for many residents.

The sheer size of the fires brings new horror as the state still reels from enormous blazes last year and has yet to hit its most dangerous months historically.

California crews scramble to keep flames from reaching homes
The Holy Fire burns in the Cleveland National Forest at a hillside near homes in Lake Elsinore, Calif., Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Explore further: Battling 18 blazes, California may face worst fire season

Related Stories

Battling 18 blazes, California may face worst fire season

August 8, 2018

The largest wildfire ever recorded in California needed just 11 days to blacken an area nearly the size of Los Angeles—and it's only one of many enormous blazes that could make this the worst fire season in state history.

Twin California fires are second-largest in state history

August 6, 2018

Twin Northern California blazes fueled by dry vegetation and hot, windy weather grew Monday to become the second-largest wildfire in state history, becoming the norm as climate change makes the fire season longer and more ...

Thousands flee new California blaze, governor asks aid

July 28, 2018

Thousands of people in Southern California had fled a deliberately set blaze southeast of Los Angeles by Saturday morning, after the state's governor requested federal aid to help battle a deadly fire elsewhere.

Recommended for you

Evidence of earliest life on Earth disputed

October 17, 2018

When Australian scientists presented evidence in 2016 of life on Earth 3.7 billon years ago—pushing the record back 220 million years—it was a big deal, influencing even the search for life on Mars.

Arctic greening thaws permafrost, boosts runoff

October 17, 2018

A new collaborative study has investigated Arctic shrub-snow interactions to obtain a better understanding of the far north's tundra and vast permafrost system. Incorporating extensive in situ observations, Los Alamos National ...

Arctic ice sets speed limit for major ocean current

October 17, 2018

The Beaufort Gyre is an enormous, 600-mile-wide pool of swirling cold, fresh water in the Arctic Ocean, just north of Alaska and Canada. In the winter, this current is covered by a thick cap of ice. Each summer, as the ice ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.