Fire Crews make progress, try to corral 3 California wildfires before return of hot, dry winds

Wednesday, September 20th 2006, 9:40 pm
By: News On 6

OJAI, Calif. (AP) _ Firefighters made steady progress as they raced to contain three separate wildfires in Southern California before the expected return of the hot, dry Santa Ana winds.

Cooler weather, lighter winds and higher humidity on Wednesday helped reduce the spread of flames, which have burned about 160 square miles. Similar conditions were forecast for Thursday, which should help firefighters carve firebreaks before the predicted return of Santa Ana winds on Friday.

``The weather's pretty moderate so they're trying to hit it with everything they've got,'' U.S. Forest Service spokesman Maeton Freel said about one of the fires, in Los Padres National Forest.

The blaze, sparked on Labor Day by someone burning debris, has scorched 99,950 acres, or nearly 156 square miles in an area 75 miles northwest of Los Angeles. It was 35 percent contained.

The town of Lockwood Valley, about seven miles from the edge of the fire, remained under voluntary evacuation.

Ramona Moloski, 68, said she could see smoke billowing over a hill about five miles from her home. A firefighter came to her door Wednesday afternoon and urged her to be ready to leave.

``He said, 'don't get trapped back here,''' Moloski said. ``It's about two miles to get out of here on a one-way road. I'm very concerned.''

More than 2,000 firefighters and 34 aircraft were fighting the blaze, with many concentrated on its active, northeastern end. The fire has cost $22.7 million to fight.

Meanwhile, a 2,500-acre fire in the San Bernardino National Forest was burning northeast of Lake Arrowhead, about 80 miles east of Los Angeles.

It was 55 percent contained after flames closed Highway 173. Two firefighters were injured when a Bureau of Land Management water truck overturned. Their injuries were not considered life-threatening.

The fire was moving into an area overgrown with dry grass and brush. It would have to cross a ravine and creek then travel several miles before reaching hundreds of homes.

Another fire was burning 10 miles north of La Canada Flintridge in Angeles National Forest north of Los Angeles. It was 45 percent contained after burning 250 acres and prompting authorities to close a portion of Angeles Crest Highway, said forest spokeswoman Kathy Peterson.