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Fires Threaten Los Angeles Area as ‘Rainy Season’ Stays Dry With PM-Interstate Pileup, Bjt

November 30, 1991

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Fierce winds, parched brush and a prolonged drought took their toll on Southern California this week, as firefighters battled five blazes threatening Los Angeles-area homes.

Fire crews appeared to have gained the upper hand on a brush fire that raged Friday in the May Canyon area near the Sylmar section of Los Angeles, about 23 miles northwest of downtown.

″Basically, the fire is out at this point,″ said Los Angeles fire department spokesman Michael Little. ″We’ll keep firefighters there for the next couple of days, especially because of the winds.″

Elsewhere Friday, high winds downed power lines and left nearly 50,000 utility customers in Southern California without power.

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power officials said about 40,000 customers lost power briefly; more than 4,000 Southern California Edison also were briefly affected, said utility spokesman Kevin Kelley.

″We had three outages at the same time in the same general vicinity,″ Kelley said Friday night.

Meanwhile, high winds coupled with an unexpected snow storm snarled traffic near Big Bear, about 70 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles in the San Bernardino Mountains, the California Highway Patrol said.

″You’ve got cars in the bank here, cars in the bank there,″ said Steve Munday of the CHP’s traffic operations division.

The highway patrol said winds gusting up to 75 mph through the Cajon Pass, some 60 miles east of Los Angeles, made road conditions hazardous. Those high winds contributed to the spate of brush fires that plagued the region for a week.

Other brush fires this week were reported in suburban Sylmar, La Canada Flintridge, Thousand Oaks and South Pasadena as Southern California withered in its sixth consecutive year of drought.

The rainy season, which officially started Oct. 1, has been dry.

Downtown Los Angeles usually gets 0.21 inches of rain in October and 1.85 inches in November, but this year got 0.37 inches in October and none so far this month, the National Weather Service said.

Drought conditions contributed to other brush fires this week in suburban Sylmar, La Canada Flintridge, Thousand Oaks and South Pasadena.

Downtown Los Angeles usually gets 0.21 inches of rain in October and 1.85 inches in November, but this year got 0.37 inches in October and none so far this month, the National Weather Service said.

″We’re way behind,″ meteorologist Marty Chipman said. ″It looks like we’re going to zilch out in November.″

The fresh memory of the Oct. 20 firestorm in the Oakland Hills in the Bay Area has made firefighters and residents particularly nervous. That disaster, which remains under investigation, killed 25 people, destroyed more than 3,000 homes and caused $1.5 billion in damage.

Residents of May Canyon were much luckier, with no injuries or structural damage reported.

Bulldozers, water-dropping helicopters and 600 firefighters from the city and county battled the flames, which authorities blamed on careless campers.

Forest Service spokeswoman Denise Rains said flames approached within 100 feet of some houses. But the structures were spared because they didn’t have flammable wood shingle roofs and because brush had been cleared away, she said.

″Not everybody lives up to requirements″ to remove brush from their property, said county fire department spokesman Clark Pearson. ″These people did. It probably had a lot to do with saving their homes.″

An evacuation center was set up at Sylmar High School, and some people left their homes briefly, Rains said.

Authorities had posted a ″red flag alert″ Friday afternoon as gusty winds raked Los Angeles County, and Little said the warning probably would be in effect today.

Similar alerts were in effect to the east in San Bernardino County and in most of Southern California’s national forests, state and county parks and other wildlands. High wind warnings or advisories were issued in several areas.

Authorities initially said the May Canyon fire charred 550 acres. But by Friday afternoon the estimate was down to about 140 acres, said Pearson and U.S. Forest Service spokesman Bob Libershal.

The blaze was 60 percent contained by Friday morning as winds briefly subsided. Winds later reached 30 mph to 40 mph with 70 mph gusts, but by late afternoon, all hot spots were reported to be out, Pearson and Libershal said.

The blaze was caused by an abandoned campfire on county land that wasn’t designated for camping, but the campers hadn’t been located, Rains said.

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