New Blaze Scares Southern California Area

November 5, 2009

A cluster of brush fires believed ignited by a malfunctioning truck threatened suburban homes and swept past a high school before aircraft and firefighters quashed its spread Tuesday.

Four civilians suffered minor injuries from smoke inhalation and a firefighter suffered heat stress but no structural damage was confirmed, said Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Frederic Stowers.

The blaze, which burned a total of 50 acres, was 100 percent contained by Tuesday evening. Freeway traffic slowed to a crawl as smoke blanketed the area about 25 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

Stowers said a pickup truck’s malfunctioning catalytic converter, part of the exhaust system, was the apparent cause. The device can spit out hot metal that would account for the multiple ignition points, he said.

The driver of the truck was stopped by police but released after investigators determined the fire’s cause was accidental, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said.

Some 300 firefighters battled lines of widely separated flames moving across rolling grasslands.

Helicopters and SuperScooper airplanes roared low over homes to drop water just outside back yards. The SuperScoopers, which are twin-engine turboprop amphibious tankers that skim water from lakes, reservoirs and the ocean, are leased by the county during fire season.

Diamond Bar is a modern community, incorporated in 1989, with a population of about 58,000 spread over 15 square miles of former ranchland studded with oaks and walnut trees.

The fires erupted at the tail end of a hot and extremely dry period spawned by a high pressure system, the kind of pattern often associated with fire conditions. But there were no strong winds, and the National Weather Service said a cooling trend was on the way.

The last major blaze in the area burned more than 300 homes as it spread over 30,000 acres of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties in November 2008.

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