Calif. Fires Force Thousands to Evacuate - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

Oct 24, 11:54 AM EDT Los Angeles, California

Calif. Fires Force Thousands to Evacuate

Flames pushed by 25 mph and higher winds jumped ridges and roads on a march toward Rancho Cucamonga early Friday. Thousands in the region were evacuated and two major freeways closed.

More than 3,800 acres of the San Bernardino National Forest have been scorched since the fire started Tuesday in the heavily developed area about 50 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, said Bill Peters, a fire information officer.

Billowing clouds of smoke hung above the area, while the California Highway Patrol ordered closure of Interstate 210, an east-west highway running north of Los Angeles, and Interstate 15, the main route from Southern California to Las Vegas.

Evacuations were ordered Friday morning for hundreds of residents in northeastern Rancho Cucamonga, and about 2,000 people were ordered out of the nearby Lytle Creek area Thursday because the blaze was expected to block the only road into the area.

About 1,400 firefighters battled the blaze, which was only 17 percent contained early Friday, Peters said. Triple-digit temperatures were expected Friday, and winds of 25 mph and up were reported. The even stronger Santa Ana winds were expected to pick up over the weekend.

The wind delayed deployment of firefighting aircraft Friday morning. The Red Cross set up a temporary shelter in Fontana, just east of Rancho Cucamonga, and all elementary and middle schools in nearby Etiwanda were ordered closed.

The fire, which authorities blamed on arson, was one of several that swept through Southern California this week, destroying five homes and chewing through nearly 11,000 acres.

A fire near Piru in Ventura County had charred about 700 acres by early Friday, but was burning away from homes, said Barry Peckham, a spokesman for Los Padres National Forest. A cause of the fire, reported Thursday, had not been determined.

At Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, 50 miles north of San Diego, 1,350 firefighters were battling a 4,100-acre brush fire that was threatening 300 homes Friday morning, fire officials said.

Residents were asked to evacuate and a temporary shelter was set up in Fallbrook.

Officials said the fire started on a training range Tuesday, apparently sparked by ammunition used in military exercises, and was 40 percent contained early Friday. Firefighters have been unable to enter the southwestern area of the fire because it could be littered with unexploded ordnance, officials said. Officials had no estimate on full containment.

A 2,857-acre fire in the Reche Canyon area of Riverside County had been completely contained by Thursday evening. It had destroyed five homes, a barn, 21 outbuildings, a boat and several vehicles.

Officials said an arsonist set the Riverside County blaze and were seeking information on a black pickup seen just before the wildfire erupted.

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Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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