L.A. Fire Half Contained

September 8, 2009

As firefighters took on the still-flaring eastern flank of a giant, arson-sparked wildfire north of Los Angeles, those examining the damage in calmer areas discovered two more destroyed homes, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman said.

The fire, which started Aug. 26, has killed two firefighters, blackened nearly 246 square miles of the Angeles National Forest and destroyed at least 78 homes and a pair of commercial buildings, fire spokesman Ian MacDonald said Sunday. Details were not immediately available on the newly discovered damage.

Fire agencies so far have spent nearly $50 million fighting the blaze, which was 51 percent contained.

Authorities on Sunday were trying to determine who set the deadly fire.

At least a dozen investigators were working to analyze clues found at a burnt hillside near Angeles Crest Highway where the fire started. But officials, who say the cause of the fire was arson, were hesitant to release any of their findings to the media.

Crews built new protective lines near Highway 39 in the San Gabriel Wilderness, the Forest Service said in a news release.

Fire crews planned to light backfires in the area Sunday night and Monday morning to help destroy fuels if the weather is not too hot and dry, and officials told residents not to be alarmed if they see fresh plumes of smoke.

The fire was a potential threat to some 5,000 homes and commercial buildings in Monrovia and other foothill communities, but none were in immediate danger.

The weekend weather forecast called for cooler temperatures and slightly higher humidity that could help firefighters further surround the blaze. Because of the reduced heat, hundreds of firefighters assigned to protect structures were dismissed. About 4,600 remained.

Los Angeles County firefighters Tedmund Hall and Arnaldo Quinones were killed Aug. 30 while seeking an escape route for their inmate fire crew after flames overran their camp on Mount Gleason. The two died when their truck plunged 800 feet (245 meters) off a steep mountain road.

Sheriff’s detectives opened a homicide investigation after the fire was ruled arson earlier this week, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has offered $100,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the culprit.

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