Wildfire crews in California brace for more winds

2014-05-02 12:00
A firefighting air tanker plane drops fire retardant in California. (David McNew, AFP)

A firefighting air tanker plane drops fire retardant in California. (David McNew, AFP)

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Rancho Cucamonga – Fire-fighters battling a smoky blaze in the foothills east of Los Angeles took advantage of cooler early-morning conditions as they braced for the return of gusty winds that initially pushed the fire in the direction of more than 1 500 homes.

Hot Santa Ana winds were forecast to return on Thursday, prompting officials to order nine schools near the blaze above Rancho Cucamonga to remain closed. Temperatures in the area were expected to top 100°C.

As winds that had gusted to 80km/h on Wednesday eased during the evening, mandatory evacuation orders for 1 650 homes were cancelled, though residents were urged to prepare to leave at a moment's notice.

The fire erupted on Wednesday morning in the foothills of the San Bernardino National Forest and quickly burned across 400Haof brush. The US forest service continued to cite that figure late Wednesday, indicating the fire hadn't grown for several hours. No containment estimate was given.

Meanwhile, more than 700 fire-fighters remained on the front lines, fighting the blaze with 55 fire engines and four bulldozers. High winds prevented them from using aircraft.

The National Weather Service issued a red-flag warning of extremely dangerous fire conditions for Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties until 20:00.

On Wednesday, as the flames raced through heavy brush, some of which last burned a decade ago, homes not even in the fire's path were threatened.

A blaze fanned by gusts "tends to throw embers and brands ahead of itself, sometimes a mile," US forest service spokesperson Chon Bribiescas said. "That's the insidious part of a wind-driven fire."
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