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Thread: California Desert Homes Evacuated

  1. #1
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    California Desert Homes Evacuated

    California Desert Homes Evacuated
    Wind exceeding 40 mph fanned the flames

    Updated: 07-12-2006 11:18:22 AM

    Associated Press Writer

    YUCCA VALLEY CA USA -- Flames from a brush fire fburn Wednesday. July 12, 2006 , near Yucca Valley, Calif. Firefighters evacuated dozens more people from their homes early Wednesday as a wildfire raced across the desert and consumed several structures.

    Firefighters evacuated dozens more people from their homes early Wednesday as a wildfire raced across the desert and destroyed several homes in an area where dozens of Hollywood Westerns were filmed.

    Wind exceeding 40 mph fanned the flames, and officials said they didn't expect the weather to change anytime soon. The fire had covered more than 17,000 acres.

    Dozens were evacuated from communities in Little Morongo Canyon and Burns Canyon. Up to 1,000 fled the flames Tuesday, authorities said.

    Firefighters had no estimate of when they might have the blaze under control.

    "If we have more of the same with the high winds and high temperatures it could be trouble," said California Department of Forestry Capt. Marc DeRosier.

    The blaze burned through historic Pioneertown, destroying at least 30 homes and buildings there and in surrounding towns. It was unclear whether any historic structures were destroyed, said California Department of Forestry Capt. Marc DeRosier.

    Evacuees included Linda Krantz, an employee at Pappy & Harriet's restaurant in Pioneertown, who just had time to grab computers and books before leaving.

    "I can see the flames from here. The sky is so black. It's not good at all," said Krantz, who cried as she spoke by telephone.

    Pioneertown, about two hours east of Los Angeles, was host to Roy Rogers, Russ "Lucky" Hayden and other Hollywood cowboys who helped establish the desert hideaway in 1946. Movie crews nailed together a saloon, hauled up a railroad car and sank posts around the "OK Corral."

    Gene Autry filmed "Last of the Pony Riders" and "Indian Territory" in Pioneertown. Hayden, who played the sidekick in the "Hopalong Cassidy" movies, used it for his "Judge Roy Bean" TV series, and "Cisco Kid" producers shot several movies and the TV series there.

    By the 1960s, the town had become more of a residential community, although filmmakers began returning a few years ago. Car companies have filmed commercials in Pioneertown in recent years. Music videos have also been made there.

    Fire investigators believe a lightning strike over the weekend sparked the fire, which slowly heated up before it "reared its ugly head" Tuesday afternoon, Lannen said. Earlier, they thought the fire was part of several lighting-sparked blazes that began Sunday that had been temporarily contained.

    CDF Capt. Debbie Chapman said about 200 homes were threatened. About 2,500 firefighters aided by 13 helicopters and eight air tankers were working the blaze. Seven firefighters and two civilians suffered minor injuries, including burns and smoke inhalation.

    Elsewhere in the West, Montana firefighters were trying to control a blaze about 40 miles west of Billings that had destroyed at least four structures, including two homes, officials said.

    Authorities urged residents in about 120 homes to leave because of the 3,000-acre fire. Five structures were destroyed, officials said. No injuries were reported.

    In Nevada, officials said they had gained the upper hand on two lightning-sparked wildfires burning toward the small town of Beatty, near Death Valley National Park.

    The blazes were fully contained by Tuesday night. No injuries were reported and no structures had been threatened.

    In western Stanislaus County, Calif., a fire that burned about 5 square miles of rugged terrain was about 40 percent contained Tuesday.

    No evacuations were ordered as about 1,000 firefighters fought the blaze, which started Sunday about 85 miles southeast of San Francisco. The fire destroyed three structures believed to be hunting cabins.

  2. #2
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    Wind, Heat Make California Wildfires Tough to Fight

    Updated: 07-13-2006 11:01:12 AM

    Associated Press

    Firefighters dug in for another day of blistering heat Thursday as they struggled to keep a string of desert wildfires from spreading toward the mountain resort community of Big Bear Lake.

    The lightning-sparked flames had already destroyed nearly 100 homes and other structures and chased about 1,000 people from Rimrock, Burns Canyon, Gamma Gulch, Flamingo Heights, Little Morongo Canyon and the Wild West movies community of Pioneertown, officials said.

    "We're talking about steep hills that make progress by hand crews and engines slow and difficult," San Marcos Fire Battalion Chief Rick Vogt told CNN Thursday morning. "That, combined with the weather, makes it a challenging fire."

    A 37,000-acre blaze threatening Pioneertown was one of several fires started by dry lightning that moved through the area earlier this week, Vogt said.

    Fire officials worried that if the fires continued west toward the San Bernardino National Forest, they could grow rapidly in the steep terrain and get dangerously close to Big Bear Lake, a community of summer lake and winter ski resorts and about 5,500 residents.

    A severe bark beetle infestation has killed many trees in recent years, and that would fuel the flames.

    "If it starts in there it will be almost impossible to stop," said California Department of Forestry spokeswoman Karen Guillemin.

    At least 42 houses, 55 other buildings and 91 vehicles have burned in around the high desert communities about 100 miles east of Los Angeles, authorities said. Most of the historic buildings that made Pioneertown famous, old west saloons and storefronts that once were props for movie cowboys like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, were spared.

    Temperatures hit 108 degrees Wednesday as 2,500 firefighters attacked flames devouring Joshua trees, pinon pines and brush in hills and canyons. Highs in the 100s are forecast for the Pioneertown area through the weekend, with winds 5 to 15 mph. Higher up at Big Bear Lake, temperatures in the mid-80s were forecast for Thursday.

    North of Yucca Valley, a blanket of smoke darkened the sky over the Mojave Desert.

    In the Gamma Gulch area, dead animals littered a property where a home and barn burned. Eight firefighters and two civilians were treated for minor burns or smoke inhalation.

    Residents watched nervously in Morongo Valley, where large ranch homes are surrounded by highly combustible greasewood and Joshua trees, pinon pines and brush.

    Elsewhere in the West, several new wildfires in southern Montana spread quickly - one to an estimated 10,000 acres - because of windy weather.

    At least one house on the Crow Indian Reservation was reported destroyed by a blaze estimated at 4,500 acres, said Jon Kohn, an information officer for the Crow Agency Bureau of Indian Affairs' Forestry division.

    There also was a 3,150-acre wildfire west of Columbus, and another burning north of Pompeys Pillar that was estimated at 10,000 acres, said Mary Apple, a spokeswoman with the Bureau of Land Management.

    Wildfires have burned more than 4 million acres nationwide, almost twice the 10-year average for this time of year, according to National Interagency Fire Center.

    ___Photo below
    AP Photo/Lucas Jackson
    Firefighters work the Sawtooth Complex Fire near the town of Morongo Valley, Calif., July 12.

  3. #3
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    California Firefighters Endure Elements in Wildfire

    California Firefighters Endure Elements in Wildfire

    Updated: 07-14-2006 05:22:09 PM

    Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, CA)

    YUCCA VALLEY - Heat, smoke, 24-hour shifts, sleeping in a fire truck and an occasional rattlesnake are some of the challenges local firefighters endured while battling a blaze in Yucca Valley that started Sunday.

    Rancho Cucamonga Fire Battalion Chief James Curatalo, leader of a local multi-agency team, said Thursday that the growing fires could keep them out in the low desert for days.

    A more than 40,000-acre fire has torn through the wilderness, destroying 100 homes and buildings, and was on course to possibly merge with a blaze in the San Bernardino National Forest, where it could feed on vast tracts of dead trees, state officials said.

    "The fire conditions are getting worse," Curatalo said Thursday afternoon. "The winds on the ridges are about 25 mph. On the midslopes and valley, they're about 15 mph, but erratic."

    Personnel from Rancho Cucamonga, Upland, Ontario, Montclair and Chino Valley Independent Fire District on Tuesday headed to the fire, which is north of Palm Springs, after the weekend fire began to quickly spread.

    "It's extremely rough country, mainly dirt roads," Curatalo said. "We are off-road in canyons and protecting isolated homes and sleeping in the (trucks)."

    Ontario Fire Capt. Richard Martinez said when his team arrived Tuesday afternoon, they had to drive through smoke and fire to get to their location. Houses were already on fire, so firefighters provided protection to the ones endangered by the surrounding blaze, Martinez said. The team didn't lose one house after they arrived, he added.

    "We're not getting a lot of sleep, and everyone is a little tired and fatigued, but this is what we train for," Martinez said.

    The terrain is similar to a desert with hills and includes a lot of small animals, said Chino Valley Firefighter-Paramedic Rod Lanthier.

    "We opened a house, and a rattlesnake came out," Lanthier said. At night, when the temperature dropped, "coyotes catch rabbits and eat them about 50 feet away from where we were trying to get some rest."

    Upland Fire Capt. Mike Hardy said the fire was smaller than the 2003 Grand Prix fire that tore through western San Bernardino County, but that "it's getting up there."

    Part of a captain's job is to make sure firefighters working on his unit are not only trying to protect others, but also themselves. This includes making sure everyone is hydrated, because the region is also dealing with a heat wave, and ensuring safety gear is properly secured.

    "If my guys get weak or pass out, then we are no good to anybody," Hardy said, noting that Upland Fire Department personnel recently trained for this type of fire. "I think we are truly prepared, and this experience will only help us to better protect (Upland)."

    Curatalo said that while firefighters expected to get 24 hours off after working 48 straight hours, they've already volunteered to go back to the front lines if needed.

    It was a sentiment echoed by Lanthier.

    "It sounds corny, but it's a firefighter's nature to want to be a rescuer," he said. "If somebody calls us, we'll go."
    The Associated Press contributed to this story.

    Edward Barrera can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at (909) 483-9356.

  4. #4
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    California Wildfire Crews May Contend with Storms

    California Wildfire Crews May Contend with Storms

    Updated: 07-17-2006 09:29:47 AM

    Associated Press

    Firefighters were bracing for the possibility of thunderstorms and lightning Monday that could spark new blazes and flood canyon areas scorched by wildfires that have devoured 58 homes and blackened 120 square miles.

    "We'll get substantial rain. Whether it will be helpful or harmful will be determined by how you look at it," said Robert Balfour, a National Weather Service senior forecaster assigned to the fires.

    The two major fires in the California desert have merged, which fire officials described as a positive development.

    There is a 40 percent chance of rain in the area on Monday, and a 60 percent of heavy rain, with the possibility of flash flooding later in the week, Balfour said.

    One area of the fire, spanning about 97 square miles, was 60 percent contained, fire officials said. Much of the firefighting Sunday occurred at an adjacent complex of fires, which grew to more than 32 square miles Sunday and was 20 percent contained.

    Firefighters have had a hard time reaching remote, rugged pockets in both fires, which merged on Friday. They were forced to rely on helicopters to drop in suppression teams instead of using bulldozers and other heavy equipment.

    Once on the ground, firefighters faced rocky terrain and sheer cliffs.

    "It's steeper than a cow's face," said Tony Duprey, an air tactical group supervisor who has flown helicopter reconnaissance.

    Since being ignited by lightning a week ago in this area about 100 miles east of Los Angeles, the larger fire has destroyed 58 houses and mobile homes, dozens of outbuildings and scores of vehicles.

    Fire officials estimated damage from the fire at more than $8.4 million and firefighting costs at $10.3 million.

    At least 11 people, including firefighters, have been injured. On Saturday, a search team found the body of a man who had been missing since the fire burned through historic Pioneertown on Tuesday. The cause of the man's death remained under investigation but sheriff's officials said it appeared to be fire-related.

    Fires were raging in several other states as well.

    On the edge of Valentine, Neb., located about 300 miles northwest of Omaha near the South Dakota state line, a large canyon fire destroyed about 10 homes and 200 people and a hospital were told to evacuate as a precaution, officials said.

    Firefighters spent the night protecting the town of 2,600 people and trying to keep the blaze confined.

    "We've got it knocked down, but it's not out," said Valentine Fire Chief Terry Engles.

    Firefighters in southern and eastern Montana were battling five major fires that charred about 294 square miles, mostly east of Billings.

    In Wyoming, a wind shift helped firefighters keep a blaze from advancing toward Devils Tower National Monument. Four fires about five miles southwest of Devils Tower have burned about 14,848 acres - about 23 square miles - of mostly brush and ponderosa pine. About 10 percent of the fires were contained. Started by lightning Wednesday, the fire had damaged two homes and threatened 35 others.

    In Minnesota, authorities let two wildfires burn Sunday in the northeastern part of the state, which is having a second consecutive day of a "red flag warning" for fires. The more serious of the two is expected to burn eastward toward a part of a "blowdown area" where prescribed burns were conducted in 2003 and 2004, making firefighting easier and safer.
    ___California Forestry Dept.

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