Stubborn California Fire Doubles in Size


Updated: 09-18-2006 08:48:18 AM


By CHRISTINA ALMEIDA
Associated Press Writer


A stingy, two-week-old wildfire has chewed through more than 90 square miles along the Los Angeles-Ventura county border, nearly doubling in size due to gusty winds.

The fire was the largest of three blazes that kept firefighters busy across Southern California. Two new wildfires burned eight miles apart in the desert northwest of Palm Springs, forcing the temporary evacuation of about 2,500 residents. Two homes were destroyed in one of the desert fires.

While no one has been injured and no homes have been lost, the wildfire that has remained largely in the Los Padres National Forest crept within about 12 miles of the artists' enclave of Ojai, about 75 miles northwest of Los Angeles. The fire also threatened the nearby cities of Fillmore and Santa Paula.

Gusty winds fanned flames on Sunday that almost doubled the fire's size. It has burned 60,589 acres, or about 93 square miles, since it began on Labor Day, and containment is estimated at 15 percent. More than 2,000 firefighters were battling the blaze, which was ignited by someone burning debris.

Officials credited a cool, moist ocean breeze Sunday night for slowing down the fire and putting communities out of immediate danger.

Fire officials said they expected the blaze's main front to head northeast toward a group of mountains.

Winds were expected to be up to 15 mph, which could provide a window for firefighters to get better control of the blaze.

Officials had advised the evacuation of about 350 homes in Upper Ojai, Matilija Canyon and Wheeler Gorge areas, said Sgt. Tim Hagel of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department.

Ninety students cleared out of an Ojai Valley boarding school near the fire.

"It was a voluntary evacuation, but they were urged to leave," said Peter Cavalho, a supervisor of maintenance at Ojai Valley Schools Upper Campus.

The fire, which has cost about $15 million to fight, also scorched a condor sanctuary in part of the Sespe Wilderness and fish and game officials closely watched a condor fledgling. The bird was in a high, rocky area that was not in imminent danger and no intervention was necessary, Tobin said.
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