Investigators Scour For Clues In California Fire

Tuesday, March 13th 2007, 5:37 am
By: News On 6

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) _ Highway security videotape could hold clues about who torched a stolen car and triggered a fierce wildfire near the hills southeast of Los Angeles.

Investigators believe the 2,036-acre brush fire in the Anaheim Hills ignited Sunday after someone set ablaze a stolen, white 2004 Honda Civic.

Hundreds of people were forced to temporarily evacuate their homes as hot, dry Santa Ana winds fanned flames over an area equal to about three square miles. Firefighters expected to have the fire fully contained by Tuesday.

``It was intentionally set, so that makes it arson,'' said Capt. Steve Miller of the Orange County Fire Authority.

Investigators worked leads Monday in Riverside County where the car was reported stolen and reviewed security tape from Highway 241 where it was abandoned, said city of Anaheim spokesman John Nicoletti.

``We're looking for anybody who was traveling along the 241 toll road early Sunday that may have any information about seeing people around a vehicle such as that,'' he said.

A ``red flag'' alert for fire danger had been issued going into the weekend and the forecast of winds, extremely low humidity and heat proved true as Southern California stayed on pace to have the driest winter in decades.

``With the current conditions we're seeing, if we do have fires, we're looking at real extreme fire behavior,'' Miller said.

The last time it was this dry was in 1923-1924, when 2.5 inches of rain were recorded through March 22, 1924. Only about 2.4 inches of rain have fallen in downtown Los Angeles since July 1, and forecasters said it was unlikely there would be any rain in March. Normal annual rainfall in Los Angeles is 11.43 inches.

Temperatures in much of the region hit the 90s on Sunday and again Monday, with downtown Los Angeles setting a record high of 93 for the date. Significant cooling was forecast for Tuesday.

The Anaheim Hills blaze threatened several multimillion-dollar homes, but damaged only one house, Miller said. Two smaller structures were destroyed.

Residents of about 500 homes were evacuated but most were able to return Sunday night.

Two firefighters were treated for minor injuries. A third, who was accidentally cut in the face by an ax, was hospitalized, Miller said.