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California fire burns 105,000 acres

Firefighter ranks swell to 3,700

Smoke from the Station fire rises over downtown Los Angeles on Monday.  (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Smoke from the Station fire rises over downtown Los Angeles on Monday. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Corina Knoll, Louis Sahagun And Rich Connell Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES – A six-day-old wildfire that has destroyed 74 buildings and churned through more than 105,000 acres of mountainous brush showed little sign of slowing Monday, and fire officials offered little hope of containment as long as hot, dry conditions continued.

The Station fire, the largest of several burning in California, was plowing through dense hillside vegetation along the San Gabriel Mountains, cutting a remarkable swath that extended from Altadena into the high desert. On Monday, the fire advanced to the west, bringing new evacuations to Sunland-Tujunga and coming within a few miles of Santa Clarita.

On the fire’s eastern flank, officials were still hoping a concerted effort to hack away tree limbs, cut fire breaks and lay down fire retardant would spare the Mount Wilson Observatory and a key complex of communications towers used for over-the-air broadcasting by nearly 50 radio and television stations.

Despite the sprawling dimensions of the fire area, stretching up to 25 miles from east to west and 18 miles north to south, aggressive ground and aerial firefighting assaults managed to contain the blaze to largely undeveloped areas.

“There have been hundreds of homes saved in this effort,” Los Angeles County Deputy Fire Chief Mike Bryant said.

But the outlook for the coming days remains “treacherous,” said Mike Dietrich, incident commander for the U.S. Forest Service. “This a very angry fire. Until we get a change in the weather conditions, I am not overly optimistic. The fire is headed just about anywhere it wants.”

High fire danger conditions were expected to increase the risk the blaze could reach new communities in the Antelope, Santa Clarita and San Gabriel valleys. More than 6,000 homes were under mandatory evacuation orders related to the Station fire alone. Full control was not expected until well after Labor Day, even as the number of firefighters on the lines swelled to more 3,700.

Losses from the fire spiked Monday when officials discovered 53 cabins, homes and other structures destroyed in the remote Big Tujunga Canyon area. Officials estimated multimillion-dollar losses but stressed they were still tallying the destruction as inspectors were able to reach burned areas.

Weary fire crews trading 12-hour shifts had little time Monday to mourn the deaths of two Los Angeles County firefighters killed Sunday when their truck overturned on a mountain road.

The pair – Capt. Tedmund Hall, 47, and firefighter specialist Arnaldo Quinones, 35 – were part of a team of 65 firefighters trying to defend a fire camp when flames made a sudden run at their positions, said Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman. Preliminary indications are that Hall and Quinones were trying to reposition a fire truck that tumbled 800 feet down a steep slope. Other firefighters suffered minor injuries in a rescue effort, Freeman said.

At Mount Wilson, the intensity and unpredictability of the blaze, which continued shifting directions, forced fire crews to pull back from the mountaintop and wait for the firestorm to pass. With the blaze burning on both sides of the only access road to the complex, firefighters could become trapped if the inferno suddenly raced up the canyon walls.

“Right now, the fire is boss,” said Larry Peabody, division supervisor trainee for the U.S. Forest Service. “We’re experiencing rates of spread of fire in excess of 15 miles per hour, flame lengths in excess of 100 feet and very limited access to the fire.”

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