Officials urged residents from Southern California mountain communities to evacuate to safer ground as flames from a 3-week-old forest fire made a dangerous push toward their homes.
Firefighters aided by engines, bulldozers and water tankers guarded several properties early Wednesday near the Los Padres National Forest, where more than 3,800 firefighters have battled the stubborn blaze since it started on Labor Day.
“The problem is we’ve had extremely dry fuels. Brush and trees will be ignited by the heat of the fire, so there’s a domino effect going on,” fire spokesman Dan Bastion said early Wednesday.
Authorities recommended evacuation of Lockwood Valley, Pinon Pines, Pine Mountain Club and Lake of the Woods — remote Ventura County communities arrayed along roads west of Interstate 5.
No homes had been lost to the fire, one of the largest and longest-burning wildfires in state history, burning some 70 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Overall, containment was just 42 percent.
Pat Martin, 61, fled her home in Lake of the Woods Tuesday evening. Spending the night at a Red Cross shelter set up a high school gymnasium, she said she feared her home would be damaged or destroyed if the fire got too close.
“How do you start over? When you’re this old, how do you just start over?” Martin asked.
On Tuesday, wind-whipped flames jumped Lockwood Valley Road in a surprise setback for firefighters, who were monitoring the area overnight. The blaze had been moving relatively slowly with the dying of weekend Santa Ana winds that had the potential to greatly spread flames but did not.
The fire’s renewed intensity destroyed six unoccupied structures — including a modular home, a cabin, barns and camp trailers, Bastion said.
Water- and retardant-dropping helicopters and aircraft were attacking the flames from the sky. On the ground, crews staged equipment at the widely spaced homes for structure protection. At almost every house there was at least one engine and a few firefighters clearing brush, hosing down roofs and decks. A bulldozer plowed a firebreak around one home.
Dale King was helping firefighters clear brush around his home when flames roared across the edge of his 5-acre property.
“The house was vibrating. It sounded like a freight train in the yard,” said King, 57.
“It was scary. I’ve never seen a wall of fire 200 feet high moving right at you and there’s nothing you can do,” he said. “It makes you believe in the Lord, I’ll tell you.”
The blaze, which has burned more than 144,880 acres — 226 square miles — of wilderness, was ignited by someone burning debris. Firefighting costs have topped $45.5 million.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency for Ventura County, clearing the way for government assistance with costs related to the fire.
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