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Fires Engulf 600 Homes and Businesses; Death Toll In State Rises To Two

June 29, 1990

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) _ Milder winds and temperatures gave firefighters the upper hand today in a wildfire that engulfed 524 homes and businesses in Santa Barbara County and in other blazes that burned more than 90 homes.

Two Californians died in the fires - a state prisoner serving as a firefighter and a 37-year-old Santa Barbara woman found near the wreckage of her home in a burned-out neighborhood, authorities said today.

Wildfires, most set by arsonists, charred more than 18,700 acres by Thursday in a six-county area north, east and south of Los Angeles. Arson was blamed for the Santa Barbara fire and another that charred 66 homes in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale before it was contained.

Losses could surpass $500 million in Santa Barbara County and $30 million in Glendale, officials said.

″You’re just lucky to have your life,″ said Kay O’Brien, who fled her Santa Barbara home with her husband carrying only family pictures and a retirement watch. The home and all their possessions were lost.

A county survey completed late Thursday found 524 structures destroyed, including 315 single family homes. Officials previously said 567 homes and businesses had been destroyed.

Calm wind and overnight temperatures in the 50s helped 800 firefighters subdue the blaze. Officials hoped to contain the fire by noon Saturday, said Juanita Freel, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service.

″It’s pretty calm out there now,″ Robert Ooley, a Santa Barbara County fire spokesman, said today. ″It’s still smoldering somewhat, but it’s nothing like before. It’s certainly on the downside now.″

Elsewhere, firefighters controlled blazes in Utah and at Yellowstone National Park in Montana, but large fires raged in Arizona, Texas and Colorado. In Arizona, where six firefighters died Tuesday, a lightning fire in the Tonto National Forest destroyed a cabin built in the 1920s by Western novelist Zane Grey.

In California, Gov. George Deukmejian declared states of emergency in the Santa Barbara and Glendale areas. The governor also authorized separate $50,000 rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the arsonists in both blazes.

Hospitals reported admitting 13 people for fire-related injuries and treating 55 others.

Karen Terrill, spokeswoman for the state forestry department, said in a statement this morning that a state prisoner died as a result of injuries suffered while fighting a Riverside County fire.

The victim was Victor Ferrara, 22, according to spokeswoman Patty Perez of the San Bernardino Medical Center. Ferrara, who died late Thursday, was burned when his crew was overrun by wind-driven flames, Ms. Terrill said.

In all, 1,200 state prisoners are helping in the firefighting effort.

In Santa Barbara, the body Andrea Gurka, 37, was found this morning in a creek bed behind her home in the area where the fire began, said county fire spokesman Charlie Johnson.

″She apparently had attempted to flee her residence when it was being overrun by flames Wednesday evening,″ Johnson said.

Late Thursday, in the suburban community of Claremont, 30 miles east of Los Angeles, an arson-suspected blaze burned out of control along brush-laden hillsides and consumed 400 acres, authorities said. Police blocked several residential streets although no homes were evacuated.

Police in Glendale were looking for two young men after witnesses said they saw one of them toss a butane lighter from a moving car into the brush off the road where the fire started, said Chris Gray, a Glendale Fire Department battalion chief.

The 4,000-acre arson fire that broke out late Wednesday in a valley between Santa Barbara and the nearby town of Goleta was one of the worst on record here. Damage to homes alone was estimated initially at $190 million, and the figure was expected to top $500 million, said county Supervisor Bill Wallace.

No more homes appeared threatened today.

Authorities have said an incendiary device was found at the fire’s origin, but they haven’t given details.

The Santa Barbara City Council voted Thursday to call off the July 4 fireworks at the city beach. Mayor Sheila Lodge implored residents not to celebrate with their own fireworks. Santa Barbara, which posted a record 109 degrees Wednesday, has tinder-dry foliage.

A U.S. Forest Service helicopter dropping water on flames crashed Thursday afternoon in San Marcos Pass. The pilot suffered only scrapes and bruises.

Firefighters surrounded 60 percent of a 4,500-acre wildfire in Corona in Riverside County today, but not before it destroyed eight homes, said Capt. David Parks of the California Department of Forestry.

The blaze was set as a controlled burn June 19 in the Cleveland National Forest but jumped fire lines three times, officials said.

A 2,500-acre blaze burning today near Lake Henshaw in San Diego County forced the evacuation of a Boy Scout camp and 20 homes, authorities said.

Four earlier brush fires in the county blackened about 1,700 acres before firefighters contained the blazes.

An arson blaze in the Carbon Canyon area that straddles Orange and San Bernardino counties blackened 6,640 acres and destroyed at least 14 homes. Officials hoped to control the blaze late today, state Department of Forestry Capt. Jerry Hendershot said.

″To make matters worse, fireworks go on sale today,″ said department spokeswoman Sharon Sellers. ″We’re not happy about that.″

A man described as a transient was arrested for investigation of arson in the Carbon Canyon blaze. Authorities said he sparked the blaze while trying to make coffee with two camp fires.

In east-central Arizona, officials said the 24,000-acre Tonto National Forest fire was about 50 percent contained this morning. The fire that began with a lightning strike has destroyed about 50 homes and forced the evacuation of more than 1,200 people.

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