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Santa Ana Winds Spawn Eight Brush Fires, One Killed, 200 Evacuated

October 15, 1985

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Blowtorch winds gusting up to 50 mph fanned eight wildfires across 2,200 acres of brush Monday, killing a man, destroying at least four houses and forcing the evacuations of 200 people, officials said.

Two fires in Malibu Canyon, 30 miles west of downtown Los Angeles, crackled across at least 1,200 acres, while a brush fire in the Angeles National Forest northeast of downtown burned six acres.

A blaze in Decker Canyon near Malibu burned across at least 100 acres; a fire flared near Baldy, 40 miles northeast of Los Angeles, burning at least 60 acres, and a blaze hit Box Canyon 30 miles northwest near suburban Chatsworth, burning at least 375 acres, firefighters said.

In Tapo Canyon, seven miles northwest of Box Canyon, at least 300 acres were blackened. The area has served as a location for television shows including ″Little House on the Prairie″ and ″The Thornbirds.″

A 100-acre blaze at La Tuna Canyon in Sunland, 15 miles north of downtown, was extinguished by 11 a.m.

Malibu resident Allyson Adams said the fire subsided but then abruptly flared back to life, and she was preparing to evacuate.

″Before it was just a lot of white smoke. Then, there was like a big explosion. It’s completely all started again.″

The California Highway Patrol evacuated residents in the path of the Malibu blaze from the Westlake area on the Los Angeles-Ventura county line, said CHP Officer Dan Louchrey.

About 200 school children were provided emergency shelter at Malibu Park Junior High School, said American Red Cross spokesman Richard Grain.

A 65-year-old man whose name was withheld suffered a fatal heart attack while at the scene of the Box Canyon fire, said Ventura County Coroner’s investigator Robert Boyd. Four houses were destroyed in the Decker Canyon blaze, said Los Angeles County fire Capt. Gordon Gearson.

KFWB newsman Pete Demetriou, driving along Pacific Coast Highway in the Malibu area, said in a live radio report that the fast-moving flames suddenly surrounded his car.

″I’d better move very quickly,″ he said. ″I’ve got flame at 30 and 40 foot high on each side. The temperature here right now is probably close to 200 degrees. The windows are too hot to touch.″

Residents with cloths draped around their faces were assisting firemen along Pacific Coast Highway, he said.

The winds were so high that two air tankers had to be recalled from the blaze near Baldy, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Bob Swinford.

Two helicopters kept battling the blaze, along with about 90 firefighters, he said, despite the hot, dry Santa Ana winds gusting down from the San Gabriel Mountains that ring Los Angeles.

The winds are spawned when high pressure over the Southwest propels air heated in the Mojave Desert through mountain passes into the populous South Coast Air Basin.

″The winds are blowing really hard,″ said Jon Mitchell, spokesman for the Mount Baldy Chamber of Commerce. He said smoke towered 500 feet over Mount Baldy Village.

That blaze started around 11:30 a.m. in an ″open shooting area″ near Cow Canyon Saddle, he said. ″We’ve also had word there that there were campers in the area, too.″

Despite the wind, Los Angeles County firefighter Ben Wolfe said airplanes were able to battle a 100-acre fire that broke out in a remote area of Malibu Creek State Park and was spread by 40 mph to 50 mph wind.

The California Highway Patrol closed Decker Canyon Road near Malibu and set up roadblocks around the other fires, said Officer Mike Kerr.

A smaller fire near Piuma and Malibu Canyon roads was reported 60 percent contained. No homes were threatened but ″there are houses up there,″ Wolfe said.

The La Tuna fire started at 9:30 a.m. and was within 21/2 hours after 14 fire engines and three helicopters dumped water on it, city fire spokesman Larry Ford said. ″We had five homes threatened but none damaged,″ he said.

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