Firefighters watching homes threatend by Southern California wildfire

Thursday, September 28th 2006, 6:33 am
By: News On 6

LOCKWOOD VALLEY, Calif. (AP) _ Fire crews kept watch on homes as a wildfire moved slowly and steadily through heavy brush in rural Southern California Thursday.

By mid-morning, there was low humidity, which threatened efforts to contain one of the largest and longest-burning wildfires in state history. But the winds were moderate, with no return of the hot, gusting Santa Anas that have driven the flames during the past two weekend.

``We're not out of the woods yet,'' said Dee Bechert, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman.

The fire was 43 percent contained after burning 159,281 acres, or nearly 249 square miles, of wilderness in Los Padres National Forest. More than 4,400 firefighters were working to corral the blaze about 70 miles north of Los Angeles.

On Wednesday, the flames crept within a half-mile of Lockwood Valley and other mountain communities. Firefighters spent the day clearing brush near houses and positioning equipment and hoses to fight the slow-moving flames.

Elsewhere, hand crews, aided by water-dropping aircraft, cut fire lines around the flames.

The blaze has destroyed two barns, three trailers, a cabin and five vehicles, but firefighters were able to save 40 homes, an animal refuge and a Boy Scout camp, Bechert said.

``It was good day, the lines held for the most part in the Lockwood Valley area, but we're still nervous about the red flag warning'' for extreme fire conditions in the area, she said.

Residents of Lockwood Valley, Pine Mountain Club, Pinon Pines, Cuddy Valley, Camp Scheidek and Lake of the Woods were urged to evacuate, but many chose to stay. The community of Frazier Park was under a lower-level alert.

The fire has burned since Labor Day and flared several times, sometimes covering thousands of acres in hours. It was started by someone burning debris.

``It's frustrating. You keep putting the fire to bed and it gets up and makes runs on you,'' said Ventura County fire Capt. Barry Parker.

Firefighting costs have topped $53 million. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has authorized the use of federal funds to cover some expenses.