LOS ANGELES – Two firefighters were killed Sunday when their vehicle rolled down a mountainside amid the intense flames of a wildfire that threatened 12,000 suburban homes. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger urged those in the fire’s path to get out as the blazes rained ash as far away as downtown Los Angeles, spreading in all directions in dry conditions.
Firefighters fixed their attention on the blaze’s fast-moving eastern side where flames lapped at the foot of the vital communications and astronomy center of Mount Wilson, and on the northwestern front, where the two firefighters were killed on Mount Gleason near the city of Acton.
Los Angeles County Deputy Fire Chief Mike Bryant said Sunday night that the men’s families have been notified. He did not release their identities or give a cause for the crash.
The blaze was only about 5 percent contained and had scorched 66 square miles in the Angeles National Forest. Mandatory evacuations were in effect for neighborhoods in Glendale, Pasadena and other cities and towns north of Los Angeles. Officials said air quality in parts of the foothills bordered on hazardous.
The fire, which broke out Wednesday afternoon, was the largest of many burning around California, including a new blaze in Placer County northeast of Sacramento that destroyed several homes and businesses.
The Southern California fire was expected to reach the top of Mount Wilson, where 22 television stations, many radio stations and cell phone providers have transmitters, said U.S. Forest Service Capt. Mike Dietrich.
Two giant telescopes and several multimillion-dollar university programs are housed in the century-old Mount Wilson Observatory. The complex of buildings is both a historic landmark and a thriving modern center for astronomy.
At least 18 homes were destroyed in the fire, and firefighters expected to find many more, Dietrich said.
While thousands have fled, two people who tried to ride out the firestorm in a backyard hot tub were burned. The pair in Big Tujunga Canyon, on the southwestern edge of the fire, “completely underestimated the fire,” and the hot tub provided “no protection whatsoever,” sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said Sunday.
A third person was burned Saturday in an evacuation area along Highway 2 near Mount Wilson, officials said. Details of that injury were not immediately known.
“There were people that did not listen, and there were three people that got burned and got critically injured because they did not listen,” Schwarzenegger said at a news conference at the fire command post.
For the third straight day, humidity was very low and temperatures were expected in the high 90s. Nearly 3,000 firefighters were battling the blaze.