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Monday, April 28, 2008

WildFires Near LA. Forces Residents Out and Schools to Close

Approximately 1,000 people were told to leave their homes on Sunday as wildfires burned and officials admit they only had the fire about 30 percent under control.

All Sierra Madre schools were closed on Monday. Sierra Madre is in Los Angeles County, about 13 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles.

Shelters have been opened for those forced out of their homes.

(An airplane drops flame retardant on a slope Sunday in Sierra Madre, California.)

At one point early Monday, fire crews had cause for concern with the 400+ acre wildfire burning in Southern California, when winds unexpectedly shirted and sent embers towards nearby homes.

A Sierra Madre spokeswoman, Elisa Weaver, says there is about 500 firefighters bravely battling the blaze with the help of helicopters and water-dropping air tankers, in the daytime.

"This is pretty serious," Weaver said. "Some of these areas have not burned in over 40 years."

Sierra Madre spokesman James Carlson said Sunday evening that crews had the fire 30 percent contained. Light winds and rising humidity had aided firefighters, who hoped to have the blaze fully contained within four to seven days, Carlson said.

The evacuations would be in place until at least 6 a.m. Monday.

So far, two firefighters have sustained minor injuries, one with heat exhaustion and another with a strained knee.

The fire heads toward the Angeles National Forest and according to Battalion Chief Tim Davis of the Forest Service, "It's very steep, inaccessible terrain, and it's very heavy brush. Very difficult and arduous labor for these crews. You can't get bulldozers into the majority of where these fingers of fire run."

Although the exact cause of the blaze has not been determined, officials have stated that it was man-made and was not caused by lightening or other natural causes.

Marc Peebles, of the Southern California Incident Management team says it will be four days to a week before the fire might be fully contained, depending on weather conditions.

There is yet another fire, in San Diego, burning on 50-acres in what fire officials described as open space. Officials said the fire was not threatening homes and there were no calls for evacuations.

[Update] Firefighters lose ground and containment is only at 23 percent, down from the 30 percent quoted earlier.