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California Fires Only Half-Contained

Wed., Oct. 23, 1996

Fleets of helicopters and airplanes roared through Southern California canyons on Tuesday, dropping water on erratic, wind-blown wildfires that have burned more than 100 houses and injured six firefighters.

Helter-skelter Santa Ana winds turned dry brush and oil-rich eucalyptus trees into blowtorches, spreading flames across 35,000 acres. By Tuesday afternoon, the major fires were less than half contained and some flared up again as the wind shifted and gusted up to 41 mph.

Six firefighters working a flare-up in the Malibu fire were hurt, and three of them were airlifted to a hospital burn unit after their truck stalled and flames roared over them in Corral Canyon.

One 52-year-old firefighter was in critical condition after suffering burns over 70 percent of his body and inhaling carbon and soot. “There is a chance he may not survive,” said Dr. Peter Grossman.

Two of his companions were in fair and stable condition with burns, and Long Beach firefighter Don Parkins, 56, broke his neck Tuesday when his fire truck collided with a vehicle on Pacific Coast Highway.

Also, a civilian in Carlsbad suffered burns over 45 percent of his body.

Thousands of people fled their homes, schools and businesses in four counties Monday as flames exploded, propelled through the canyons by winds that gusted as high as 71 mph.

By Tuesday, many were learning the worst.

“I saw the news and they were standing in the rubble of our home,” said Lou Stark, who lost his Carlsbad home. His wife wasn’t sure. “She said, ‘Maybe it’s not ours.’ I said, ‘Yes, it’s ours.”’

Carlsbad was the site of the worst fire, a fast-moving blaze that burned at least 98 houses and 10 other structures over 8,592 acres in or around the 65,700-resident suburb on northern San Diego County’s seashore. By Tuesday night, the fire had subsided significantly and was 48 percent contained.

Just east of Carlsbad, authorities ordered evacuations early Tuesday for parts of San Marcos, a retirement community of 42,800 people. A 35-acre fire briefly threatened a junior high school near the community, but was expected to be contained by dawn today, said San Marcos fire department spokesman Larry Webb.

In the celebrity seashore enclave of Malibu in Los Angeles County, flames charred 13,650 acres and destroyed five houses and a mobile home, and more than 1,000 people were evacuated during the height of the fire Monday.

Actress Shirley MacLaine said defending her home has become routine. “I do think they ought to change the area code, though, and make it 911,” she quipped.

Flames made repeated runs at the Latigo Canyon home of rocker Axl Rose, but firefighters saved the home.


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