Thread: California News

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    SAN DIEGO (AP) - Wildfires roared toward mountain communities
    across parts of Southern California on Tuesday, forcing tens of
    thousands of people to flee their homes while frustrated
    firefighters said there was little they could do to stop the
    flames.
    In San Diego County, exhausted crews were pulled back even
    though two devastating blazes began merging into a super fire near
    Julian, a mountain town of 3,500 known for its apple crop.
    "There's really no way to stop this fire from getting up to
    Julian," said Rich Hawkins, a U.S. Forest Service fire chief.
    Reinforcements were sent out, but Hawkins said he needed twice as
    many firefighters.
    "They're so fatigued that despite the fact the fire perimeter
    might become much larger, we're not willing to let the firefighters
    continue any further," he said. "They are too fatigued from three
    days of battle."
    To the north, people evacuating the Big Bear area were inching
    along in a 28-mile stop-and-go jam down two-lane Highway 18 into
    the desert below the burning San Bernardino Mountains.
    "I think the chances of preventing this fire from going into
    the communities on the mountaintop are very, very low at this
    point. We've got a lot of work ahead of us," California Department
    of Forestry Incident Commander Hal Mortier said.
    More than 11,000 firefighters were on the front lines throughout
    the state, battling California's deadliest wildfires in more than a
    decade.
    Since Oct. 21, at least 10 wind-driven wildfires - many of them
    arson-caused - have rampaged through Southern California,
    demolishing neighborhoods, gutting businesses and blackening more
    than half a million acres of land from the Mexican border to the
    Ventura-Los Angeles county line. At least 16 people have died - the
    two latest deaths came in San Bernardino County - and nearly 1,600
    homes have been destroyed.
    Fire officials said 42 people - not including firefighters -
    have been injured. Two burn victims were in critical condition in
    San Diego, where authorities on Tuesday revised that county's death
    total from 13 to 12.
    "This may be the worst disaster the state has ever faced and is
    likely to be the costliest," Gov. Gray Davis said, estimating the
    cost at nearly $2 billion.
    He added: "This is a total disaster. It reminds me of when I
    was in Vietnam, communities were burned out."
    Firefighters had feared they would lose hundreds of homes late
    Monday and early Tuesday as a fire in the hills between Los Angeles
    and Ventura counties threatened to push into neighborhoods in the
    densely populated San Fernando Valley, including one gated
    community of million-dollar mansions.
    But winds subsided enough to let pilots douse the area with
    water and fire retardant. Backfires and bulldozers were used to
    clear away the fuel in the flames' path. Reinforcements were sent
    to help on the ground, and temperatures dropped.
    A separate front of that fire threatened Stevenson Ranch, a
    foothill community 35 miles northwest of Los Angeles near the Six
    Flags Magic Mountain amusement park. Voluntary evacuations were
    ordered for part of the community.
    In San Bernardino County, flames destroyed 20 structures on
    Strawberry Peak and several homes in Rimforest, while threatening
    an estimated $3 billion worth of houses in the Crestline, Lake
    Arrowhead and Big Bear areas, said Bill Peters, a CDF spokesman.
    About 80,000 full-time residents have been evacuated from the
    mountains since Saturday. Tens of thousands fled on Tuesday alone.
    "Just about everything is burning," said William Bagnell, fire
    chief of the Crest Forest Fire Protection District.
    The flames are feeding on millions of dead trees, weakened by
    drought and killed by a bark beetle infestation. Officials were
    particularly worried about "crowning," where flames leap from one
    treetop to another, leaving firefighters on the ground all but
    powerless to stop them.
    California's biggest fire, a blaze of more than 200,000 acres in
    eastern San Diego County, formed a 45-mile front stretching into
    Scripps Ranch and Julian. The fire was just miles from merging with
    a 37,000-acre fire near Escondido.
    The two fires have destroyed more than 900 homes. If they join
    up, the flames would cut off escape routes and whip up the wind.
    Authorities believe the largest, nicknamed the Cedar Fire, was
    set by a lost hunter trying to signal rescuers. The CDF issued
    Sergio Martinez, 33, of West Covina, a misdemeanor citation for
    setting an unauthorized fire in the Cleveland National Forest.
    About 10 miles south of Julian, the fire destroyed about 90
    percent of the homes in Cuyamaca, a lakeside town of about 160
    people, CDF Chief Bill Clayton said.
    "I'm sad to say the community of Cuyamaca was destroyed this
    afternoon," he told KFMB-TV in San Diego.
    Just west of Julian, dozens of fire crews tried to protect homes
    from flames eating through brush, pine and oak.
    The five-member crew of Engine 31, based in the Angeles National
    Forest, pulled up outside a concrete and stucco home off Glenside
    Road and went to work carrying down awnings and using chainsaws to
    cut away shrubs.
    "Move that stuff! That stuff will just catch," U.S. Forest
    Service firefighter Damien Sanchez, 25, shouted to a fellow crewman
    struggling to remove bamboo shades from a second-story patio.
    "This stuff can catch fire, too," Sanchez said, tossing a
    wicker loveseat over the balcony and away from the house.
    As they worked, propane tanks popped in the distance - sending
    columns of black smoke into a sky already painted orange by flames.
    "This is some of the most stressful firefighting I've done,"
    said Sanchez, a seven-year veteran.
    Twelve of the deaths over the past few days came as victims
    tried to flee the two San Diego County fires. Glenn Wagner, San
    Diego County chief medical examiner, said he expects the death toll
    to rise as crews begin inspecting the hundreds of charred homes.
    "This fire was so fast," he said. "I'm sure we're going to
    find folks who simply never had a chance to get out of their
    houses."
    Some victims died within view of San Vicente Lake, a boating and
    fishing destination in Ramona.
    "Could you imagine looking out at all that water in San Vicente
    Lake and still dying in the fire?" Wagner said.
    ---
    Associated Press Writers Pauline Arrillaga, Martha Mendoza,
    Brian Skoloff and Andrew Bridges contributed to this story.

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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    MOUNT BALDY VILLAGE, Calif. (AP) - When wildfires began roaring
    through Southern California, firefighters had two options: Go on
    the offensive and attack the flames directly or focus on saving
    homes and lives.
    The wind-driven wildfires were so large and fast-moving that
    firefighters had no other choice but to defend homes.
    "It becomes like a giant chess game, where you're moving the
    pieces and trying to determine what's the greatest threat
    potential" for homes and lives, said Glen Newman, spokesman for
    the Southern Operations Information Center in Riverside.
    More than 10,000 firefighters from around the West were at work
    Tuesday, battling 10 major fires that have burned more than a
    half-million acres. More than 1,500 homes have burned and another
    40,000 were in danger between the Mexican border and Ventura
    County. Some fire fronts were 60 miles long.
    "Never in 40 years have I seen this number of acres burned this
    rapidly and this number of fires at one time," Newman said.
    In most fires, crews have the option of being more aggressive.
    They can clear brush, cut firebreaks and set backfires, with the
    goal of starving advancing flames of fuel. But firefighters have
    had little time to take such measures during this outbreak, and the
    fierce winds, rugged terrain and housing tracts encroaching onto
    hillsides conspired to worsen the struggle.
    "For 2 days, it's been a totally defensive posture," said
    Bill Peters of the California Department of Forestry. "We're
    reacting. We have to go where the homes are threatened. We're not
    able to cut line."
    The presence of thousands of homes - including dozens in the $1
    million range - have made things even more challenging.
    "You can't burn off the hillside because the homes are there,"
    Peters said.
    Even as flames continued to claim lives and property, there
    seemed to be little second-guessing of firefighting tactics.
    U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, whose home in Alpine, east of San
    Diego, was destroyed, criticized the lengthy procedure necessary
    for the state to request aid from military aircraft. Hunter said he
    requested the use of C-130 firefighting aircraft four days ago, but
    they only began arriving Tuesday afternoon.
    "The military assets come in at the end of the fire ... a
    strategy of having a slow buildup," he said. "Some changes need
    to be made."
    But he said it would be improper to criticize fire officials'
    strategies so far.
    "I think our people have done a magnificent job," Hunter said.
    "I think what we have to do right now is win this battle."
    San Bernardino National Forest spokeswoman Ruth Wenstrom echoed
    that sentiment.
    "With the limited resources, you set your priorities and
    rightfully they have been on structure protection. And we have
    saved literally thousands and thousands of structures - even though
    we lost so many," Wenstrom said.
    In the early days of the fires, water drops were impossible
    because 45-mph winds and walls of smoke made it too dangerous for
    aircraft to fly, especially over hillsides studded with power
    lines, Peters said.
    Since then, officials ordered more firefighters and equipment,
    including water-dropping helicopters from across the region.
    The sheer number and size of the fires also has stretched
    manpower and machinery.
    Firefighters carry rations and sleeping bags, and engine crews
    have credit cards to buy gasoline. Even so, it was a struggle to
    keep firefighters supplied with everything they need, from lunches
    to toilet paper.
    In San Diego County, home of the deadliest fires, firefighters
    were so fatigued they were being pulled off the front lines. Some
    had worked for 48 hours straight.
    "What the firefighters are facing is a lack of sleep, a lack of
    food, a lack of diesel fuel in some cases and a lack of logistical
    support," said Rich Hawkins, a Forest Service fire chief.
    He said the firefighters would leave even though officials
    predicted that two of the fires would merge and that "blocks of
    homes" would burn as a result.
    "We've never had in my career anything this widespread. It's
    pushing our people and resources to the breaking point," said
    Santa Barbara County Fire Department Battalion Chief Ed Rodriguez,
    a 26-year firefighting veteran, as he watched flames move uphill
    toward Mount Baldy Village, about 45 miles northeast of Los
    Angeles.
    ---
    Associated Press writer Pauline Arrillaga contributed to this
    report.

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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    Comparison of the Oakland Hills fire of 1991 to the current
    Southern California fires. All figures for Southern California
    fires as of 10 a.m. PST Tuesday:

    OAKLAND HILLS
    Acres burned: 1,800.
    Deaths: 25.
    Injuries: 150.
    Homes and apartments destroyed: 3,175.
    Homes left uninhabitable: 65.
    Firefighters deployed: More than 1,000.
    Estimated damage: $1.7 billion ($2.2 billion in today's dollars)
    Contributing factors: temperatures in 80s-90s, winds gusting to
    35mph.
    Cause: Unknown, despite 1,500 hours of investigation.

    SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
    Acres burned: 521,929.
    Deaths: 15.
    Injuries: not available.
    Homes destroyed: 1,552.
    Homes threatened: 30,000.
    Firefighters deployed: 10,000.
    Estimated damage: less than $500 million.
    Contributing factors: high heat, Santa Ana winds that gusted up
    to 70 mph.
    Cause: unknown.

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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    What an awesome job all these 11,000+ firefighters and the endless people supporting them are doing! God Bless them all and watch out for their safety.

    Thanks NJ for the updates, it finally hit me earlier what my friend is in the middle of, all I could see was this image I saw on TV last night of some firefighters surrounded by fire *heartpounding* And the pics from the news tonight ... WOW.
    September 11th - Never Forget

    I respect firefighters and emergency workers worldwide. Thank you for what you do.

    Sheri
    IACOJ CRUSTY CONVENTION CHAIR
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    RAY WAS HERE FIRST

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    Arrow

    I wish eveyone could see the continuous feeds coming in from the KCBS and KABC choppers, above the fires.

    UN-BE-Leeeevable. Past midnight west coast time....and the fires show no indication of laying down. Incredible.

    NJ
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    Clearer picture of fire victims begins to emerge

    (San Diego-AP) -- At the San Diego County morgue, a team of
    investigators is working with dental records, old X-rays, even
    licenses found on nearby pets to identify the victims of
    California's wildfires.
    Sixteen people have died. But authorities say the number is
    almost certain to rise as crews begin going through hundreds of
    destroyed homes.
    Some victims have been found in or near their burned-out cars.
    Others collapsed from heart attacks brought on by the stress of
    evacuation or seeing their homes burn.
    At least five victims were found with the remains of their dogs
    at their sides. Chief Medical Examiner Glenn Wagner says he keeps
    the animal remains with their owners. He says, "They lived
    together and they died together."
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    Post 10/29

    BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. (AP) - With towering flames bearing down
    on Southern California mountain towns, firefighters dug in to
    protect hundreds of homes Thursday while looking for more help from
    cooler temperatures.
    In the San Bernardino Mountains, relentless flames engulfed
    hundreds of homes Wednesday on a wind-driven march toward the
    resort towns of Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead. Thousands of people
    were evacuated.
    In San Diego County, the state's largest fire claimed the life
    of a firefighter when a crew was overcome by flames near Wynola, a
    town a few miles northwest of Julian in eastern San Diego County.
    Three other crew members were critically injured.
    "It just swept right over them. They probably didn't have time
    to get out of the way," San Diego County sheriff's Sgt. Conrad
    Grayson said.
    Steve Rucker, a 38-year-old fire engineer from the Novato Fire
    Protection District near San Francisco, died while battling the
    Cedar Fire, which has burned more than 250,000 acres and 1,400
    homes. It was the first firefighter death since the series of
    blazes began last week.
    He was among the 20 people who have died in the week of
    wildfires that have devastated Southern California. The fires have
    destroyed more than 2,600 homes and blackened more than 660,000
    acres - about 1,030 square miles.
    "It's like trying to control chaos," fire Engineer Brian Janey
    of the Camp Pendleton Fire Department said as he battled the Old
    Fire, which claimed hundreds of homes in Cedar Glen, just east of
    Lake Arrowhead.
    Firefighters were battling westerly winds from the Pacific
    Ocean. The cool, moist breezes replaced the hotter and drier Santa
    Ana wind that had whipped fires into raging infernos over the
    weekend.
    Wind that gusted to 60 mph early Wednesday pushed flames up from
    the mountain slopes into the dense forest between Lake Arrowhead
    and Big Bear Lake. The winds kept aircraft grounded in the area,
    further hindering firefighting efforts.
    Crews were looking for help from cooler temperatures predicted
    for Thursday. Fog and even light rain could follow on Friday.
    On Southern California's other major front, about 100 fire
    engines encircled the historic mining town of Julian in the
    mountains of eastern San Diego County. Saving the town of 3,500, a
    popular weekend getaway renowned for its vineyards and apple
    orchards, was the county's top priority.
    But as winds picked up, floating embers sparked spot fires near
    town and forced some crews to retreat.
    South of Julian, about 90 percent of the homes were destroyed in
    Cuyamaca, a lakeside town of about 160 residents.
    San Diego County fire officials have worried for days that the
    Cedar Fire and the 49,800-acre Paradise Fire would merge into a
    huge, single blaze that would make it nearly impossible to keep it
    from reaching Julian.
    In the past week, fires burned in a broken arc across Southern
    California, from Ventura County east to the San Bernardino
    Mountains and south to eastern San Diego County, scorching a region
    roughly equivalent in size to the state of Rhode Island. Seven
    fires were burning in four counties as of early Thursday.
    Some were believed set by arsonists; the Cedar Fire was ignited
    by a lost hunter's signal fire.
    A 105,000-acre blaze in the Santa Clarita area about 35 miles
    north of Los Angeles moved away from neighborhoods and was 40
    percent contained.
    In all, nearly 12,000 firefighters and support personnel were
    fighting what Gov. Gray Davis said may be the worst and costliest
    disaster California has ever faced.
    The state is spending an estimated $9 million a day fighting the
    wildfires, a near doubling of the daily estimate just two days ago.
    The total cost of fighting the fires could reach $200 million,
    while the blazes take a $2 billion toll on the California economy,
    state officials said.
    On Wednesday, a steady stream of vehicles loaded with furniture,
    televisions and other household items inched down the mountain from
    Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead.
    Other residents, however, defied the warnings of firefighters
    and decided to stay to protect their homes.
    "I'm afraid, but I've got a lot of faith," Chrisann Maurer
    said as she watered down her yard and home against a stiff,
    smoke-filled breeze. "I just think there is enough people praying
    that we might be safe."
    In Colorado, wind-whipped wildfires north and south of Denver on
    Wednesday forced thousands of families to flee.
    A fire in the foothills northwest of Boulder exploded to 4,000
    acres, burning an unknown number of structures. A few hours later,
    a fast-moving fire swept through pine-covered hills in the suburbs
    of far south Denver, destroying two homes. Evacuations of some
    3,000 homes and businesses were ordered. The fire covered 300
    acres.
    Authorities said they believed both fires were started by power
    lines downed by high wind.
    ---
    Associated Press Writers Pauline Arrillaga, Kim Curtis, Ken
    Ritter and Andrew Bridges contributed to this story.

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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    Post Quotes in the news

    "Drought, heavy fuel loads and Santa Ana winds combine to make
    the situation in Southern California the worst we've ever seen." -
    U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, responding to questions
    about the California wildfires during an online chat session on the
    White House Web site.
    ---
    "There's fire on so many fronts, it's not even manageable at
    this point...I am at a loss what you can do about it." - Chris
    Cade, a fire prevention technician with the U.S. Forest service.
    ---
    "Right now it's just up to Mother Nature. If she smiles, we'll
    be fine. If she doesn't, we're going to have problems." - Gov.
    Gray Davis, in an interview with KNBC-TV, referring to the
    threatened mountain town of Lake Arrowhead.
    ---
    "Everyone we talk to, chiefs, captains, no one's ever seen this
    before, and hopefully we will never see it again." - San
    Bernardino County firefighter Robbie Woods after hundreds of homes
    burned in the San Bernardino Mountains.
    ---
    "It's stuff you don't want to hear. It's hard because we're
    right here protecting the city...We know the chances we take when
    we do these kinds of things. It bothers you. You want to know
    exactly what happened because you don't want it to happen to you."
    - Jim Venneau, a firefighter stationed in the San Diego County town
    of Julian, after another firefighter was killed fighting a wildfire
    in the county.
    ---
    "Everyone is telling us to leave, but we're waiting until we
    see the flames. I'm afraid, but I've got a lot of faith. I just
    think there is enough people praying that we might be safe." -
    Chrisann Maurer, explaining why she refused to leave her home in
    the San Bernardino Mountains community of Big Bear Lake.

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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    Default Thru 10/29

    Major California wildfires had spread across 662,904 acres
    Wednesday, killed 20 people and destroyed more than 2,600 homes:
    -CAMP PENDLETON, San Diego County: No deaths, 9,000 acres.
    Started Oct. 21 on the Marine base, cause under investigation.
    Contained.
    -CEDAR FIRE, San Diego County: 14 people dead, 251,000 acres
    burned, 1,483 homes and 316 outbuildings destroyed. Death toll
    includes one firefighter. Started Oct. 25, apparently by lost
    hunter setting a signal fire. Air traffic nationwide was disrupted
    when flames forced evacuation of a Federal Aviation Administration
    control center. 15 percent contained.
    -DULZURA FIRE, San Diego County: No deaths, 46,291 acres burned,
    one home, five outbuildings and 11 structures damaged. Started Oct.
    26, cause under investigation. Contained. Briefly burned across
    border into Tijuana, Mexico.
    -GRAND PRIX FIRE, San Bernardino County: No deaths, 50 homes
    destroyed, 68,463 acres. Started Oct. 21, blamed on arson. 25
    percent contained.
    -MOUNTAIN FIRE, Riverside County: No deaths, 21 homes destroyed,
    9,742 acres. Started Oct. 26, cause under investigation. Contained.
    -OLD FIRE, San Bernardino County: 4 people killed, 850 homes, 10
    commercial buildings destroyed, 47,968 acres. Started Oct. 25,
    blamed on arson. 10 percent contained.
    PADUA FIRE, Los Angeles County: No deaths, 59 homes destroyed,
    10,223 acres. Separated from Grand Prix fire in San Bernardino
    County. 80 percent contained.
    -PARADISE FIRE, San Diego County: 2 people killed, 49,800 acres,
    117 homes and 116 outbuildings destroyed. Started Oct. 26, cause
    under investigation. 20 percent contained.
    -PIRU FIRE, Ventura County: No deaths, three homes, four
    outbuildings and one commercial property destroyed, 55,812 acres.
    Started Oct. 23, cause under investigation. 20 percent contained.
    -SIMI VALLEY, Ventura and Los Angeles counties: No deaths, 24
    homes and 74 outbuildings destroyed, 105,665 acres. Started Oct.
    25, cause under investigation. 40 percent contained.
    -VERDALE FIRE, Los Angeles County: No deaths, 8,680 acres.
    Started Oct. 24, blamed on arson. Contained.
    ---
    Source: California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection
    and local fire officials.
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    Post Wanted-AIR SUPPORT!!! and more

    RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) - California's top fire chief looks at a
    map of the wildfires and sees a logistical nightmare: eight fires
    and only six giant air tankers.
    "At times, it's like this state is a giant chess board and I'm
    responsible for moving all the pieces around," says James Wright,
    fire protection chief for the California Department of Forestry.
    "The hard part is that the resources are limited and the stakes
    couldn't be higher."
    While thousands of crews clutch hoses and cut trees to fight
    major blazes in Southern California, top state and federal fire and
    emergency service officials have spent an intense week in a small
    operations center.
    They have gone over maps, live footage and their own
    observations from daily airborne field trips to make the difficult
    decisions about where to send the 35 air tankers (six of them the
    extra-large variety), 85 helicopters and 13,600 firefighters that
    have arrived from within the state and around the country.
    "Of course we could use more," Wright said. "We always could
    use more."
    Twice a day, each morning and afternoon, Wright and his
    colleagues meet and prioritize the major fires - there were eight
    as of Wednesday - based on the threats they pose, weather
    conditions and terrain. The list is then disseminated at the
    Southern California Operations Center - a 50-year-old former
    Department of Motor Vehicles office - to dozens of firefighters
    doing desk duty this week.
    They use it to juggle requests from incident commanders for
    everything from air tankers for dousing flames to mobile showers so
    crews can rinse off.
    The decisions on where to send resources are based on the
    priority of the individual fire.
    But as the most devastating wildfires in state history rage
    mostly unabated, no one is getting everything they need.
    Hundreds of requests from fire chiefs battling blazes went
    unfilled on Wednesday. Among them were: 264 hand crews (units made
    up of 17-20 people each that cut fires lines and remove brush); 96
    engine strike teams (made up of five fire engines each) and 34
    bulldozers.
    "I hate having to tell them no," said California Department of
    Forestry manager Glenn Paterson, who supervises the command center
    where requests come in each day.
    Paterson, who spent years fighting fires on the front lines,
    doesn't take "no" easily. On this day, he is helping broker a
    compact with South Dakota to get extra equipment, negotiating with
    local departments to grab any extra crews and shuffling helicopters
    from contained fires to new ones.
    One thing no one here talks about is money. The fires, to date,
    have cost about $50 million to fight so far and taken a $2 billion
    toll on the economy. But those numbers doesn't factor in to
    decisions about where to send crews.
    "It just doesn't come up," said Bill Plow, a CDF division
    chief. "That's someone else's issue."
    Workers at the operations center are, however, worrying about a
    lot more than the fire of the day.
    Some staff are "fluttering," looking ahead to the next few
    days. As of Wednesday, their best predictions were that the largest
    fire in San Diego County, called the Cedar fire, would be contained
    by Nov. 5.
    Another grave concern at the center was that floods would come
    this winter after rain falls.
    "Those gullies and ravines are going to be full of waste,"
    said Wright. "It could be another disaster."

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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    Post October 30th

    BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. (AP) - Fog and drizzle Thursday came to
    the rescue of firefighters laboring to save resort towns in
    Southern California from the raging wildfires that have killed at
    least 20 people.
    "It is helping, but it is a long way from putting any fires
    out," said Ray Snodgrass, chief deputy director of the California
    Forestry Department. "It's the respite we were hoping for."
    The weather helped firefighters make progress on the two fires
    that accounted for about 90 percent of the more than 2,600 homes
    lost, and all but two of the deaths: one in the mountains northeast
    of San Diego, the other in mountain and foothill areas in and near
    San Bernardino.
    The weather change also brought gusting winds, but they were
    pushing the latter fire, covering nearly 50,000 acres, away from
    populated areas, San Bernardino County Fire Marshal Peter Brierty
    said.
    "It's a low fire," Brierty said. "It's kind of skunking
    around. As long as the current wind pattern holds, it will reduce
    the danger."
    In San Diego County, moist air helped firefighters battling the
    largest fire in state history, a 272,000-acre blaze near the
    historic mining town of Julian. Wind gusting to 40 mph remained a
    concern, even as firefighters began shifting their focus to hot
    spots in outlying areas.
    The fire "is finally showing some sign of winding down," San
    Diego County Sheriff Bill Kolender said. Authorities hoped they
    could soon begin allowing more residents to return to check on
    their homes.
    Devastating fires have burned for more than a week throughout
    Southern California, destroying more than 2,600 homes and
    blackening about 730,000 acres. Seven fires were still burning in
    four counties.
    A blaze of more than 100,000 acres on the line between Ventura
    and Los Angeles counties was winding down, with cooler weather and
    high humidity helping firefighters knock down flames that had come
    within a few feet of homes.
    On Wednesday, wind-driven flames burned about 350 homes in Cedar
    Glen in the San Bernardino Mountains. But John Lucas was able to
    save three houses on his property, including one where his wife and
    her brothers were born.
    Lucas, 38, said he built a $60,000 fire system, consisting of
    two 5,500-gallon water tanks and a network of hoses, that kept the
    buildings and the grounds wet.
    "It wasn't luck. My family and I expended a lot of preparation
    just for this scenario," said the former federal Forest Service
    firefighter.
    Others homes left relatively unscathed Thursday were in Sunset
    Pointe and Stevenson Ranch outside Santa Clarita, despite flames
    coming within feet of new $400,000 dwellings.
    "I'm feeling numb. I'm feeling like I dreamed this," said
    Marina Deeb, wearing a face mask as she talked with friends in her
    driveway. "I'm just very thankful to have my home, my husband and
    my children safe."
    Homeowners in Big Bear and other evacuated areas faced another
    concern Thursday - looting. Sheriff's deputies arrested four
    people, two of them in the act, said Sgt. Brooke Wagner of the San
    Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.
    Kim Robinson, 46, who lives near San Bernardino, said she saw
    strangers at some of the evacuated homes. "Homeless people came
    and tried to make homes in some of the empty places," she said.
    "I guess they thought they'd stay."
    In San Diego County, where the state's largest fire killed a
    firefighter on Wednesday, many of his comrades wore black bands on
    their badges. Steve Rucker, 38, died while battling a blaze that
    has burned more than 270,000 acres and some 1,500 homes. He was the
    first firefighter to die in this outbreak of fires.
    "We have a somber mood and we need to be somber, but it's time
    to move ahead," incident commander John Hawkins told the
    firefighters. "Get your chin up and move out."
    In Escondido, hundreds of mourners gathered for a memorial
    service for Ashleigh Roach, a 16-year-old who died Sunday while
    trying to escape from flames that destroyed her family's home. Her
    20-year-old sister, Allyson, was severely burned and remained
    hospitalized in critical condition.
    Nearly 13,000 firefighters and support personnel were fighting
    what Gov. Gray Davis said may be the worst and costliest disaster
    California has ever faced.
    The state was getting firefighting help from British Columbia.
    The western Canadian province's Forests Ministry said it could have
    two air tankers in the state within 24 hours, with eight more
    tankers, 65 fire pumps and nearly 200 firefighters and specialists
    to follow.
    The state is spending an estimated $9 million a day fighting the
    wildfires. The total cost of fighting the blazes could reach $200
    million, and the toll on the California economy has been put at $2
    billion.
    ---
    Associated Press Writers Pauline Arrillaga, Martha Mendoza, Ken
    Ritter and Andrew Bridges contributed to this story.
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    Post

    CEDAR GLEN, Calif. (AP) - Charred chimneys, soot-covered
    bathtubs and mattress coils were visible Thursday through the ash
    that was once Cedar Glen, a small, poor community that took the
    brunt of a mountain firestorm and lost more than 300 homes.
    "It's crazy. It looks like World War II," said Chris Gomes,
    28, who drove through the neighborhood in the San Bernardino
    Mountains on Thursday.
    The erratic wind that stoked the blaze made its path appear
    capricious, with a child's pedal car unscathed just 30 feet from a
    charred car. The fire took another home nearby, but left an
    American flag flapping in the yard of still-green grass.
    Los Angeles County fire Capt. Greg Cleveland called the blaze,
    just east of Lake Arrowhead, the "most devastating and ...
    destructive fire I've ever seen."
    Wildfires have raged for more than a week across Southern
    California, destroying more than 2,600 homes and blackening around
    730,000 acres. On Thursday, seven major fires were still burning in
    four counties.
    Crews from The Gas Co. roamed Cedar Glen on Thursday, shutting
    off severed lines that continued to spew flames. At one home, gas
    was screaming out of a pipe, forming "a ball of fire the size of a
    Volkswagen," crew leader Loyal Jennings said.
    Nearby, four wooden steps were the only remnants of a house.
    The fierce blaze had forced firefighters to retreat late
    Wednesday.
    "The fire conditions were so intense, they could not make a
    stand in this community," Cleveland said.
    On Thursday, wind continued to gust through the neighborhood,
    spinning an ornamental windmill in one yard as trees crashed down
    nearby. Power lines littered the neighborhood.
    "If you hear something snap, run in the other direction," San
    Bernardino City firefighter Dennis Moon said.
    John Lucas, 38, worked through the night to save the cluster of
    houses owned by his family. Working alone, he was able to save four
    of 11 buildings, using an irrigation system and a network of fire
    hoses he and relatives started installing in February.
    Asked what he would say to neighbors who had not been as
    fortunate, he replied, "I have no idea."

    APTV 10-30-03 1942EST
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    Post Cedar Fire-Air drop denied

    By JUSTIN PRITCHARD
    Associated Press Writer
    SAN DIEGO (AP) - The first helicopter pilot to see the patch of
    flames that would become the catastrophic Cedar Fire radioed for
    aerial water drops, but state firefighters rejected his request
    because it came minutes after such flights had been grounded for
    the night.
    Within hours, the flames cascaded out of control and killed 13
    residents between the mountains east of San Diego and the city. It
    eventually became the largest wildfire in California history.
    Southern California was already besieged by flames Saturday
    evening when the San Diego County Sheriff's helicopter went to
    search for a lost hunter who allegedly lit a beacon fire.
    Pilot Dave Weldon told The Associated Press on Thursday that he
    saw state firefighting planes on a nearby airstrip as he approached
    the mountains at 110 mph. He called down for help because his
    dispatcher had relayed reports of smoke in the area, but got no
    response.
    That was around 5:45 p.m. A few minutes later, he spotted smoke
    from the fire, then only about 50 yards on each side and not
    spreading.
    As he steadied his helicopter against wind gusts, Weldon's
    concern mounted. Just before landing, he called for backup, asking
    another county helicopter to speed to the scene with its 120-gallon
    water dump bucket. And he urged the dispatcher to contact state
    firefighters and renew his request for air tankers.
    The problem was that under state safety guidelines, no flights
    are allowed to go up into waning daylight. On Saturday, the cutoff
    was 5:36 p.m., said Capt. Ron Serabia, the CDF official who
    coordinates the 12 tankers and 10 helicopters now battling the
    272,000-acre blaze.
    The sun set that day at 6:05 p.m.
    The helicopter with the dump bucket flew within five miles of
    the fire, before state officials told it to turn back. The air
    tankers never took off. Weldon was told crews would attack the fire
    in the morning.
    "We were basically just offering our assistance fighting their
    fire, and they turned it down," said Weldon, who with his partner
    delivered the hunter to law enforcement officials, who cited him
    for setting an unauthorized fire. "I was frustrated about it, but
    I wasn't surprised."
    Weldon said the county helicopter wouldn't have been allowed to
    drop water after dark and said that it alone couldn't have done the
    job, but he thought a well-placed drop from the air tanker might
    have extinguished the flames.
    On Thursday, California's top fire official said he was not
    aware of the events and cited state night-flight restrictions.
    "If the air tankers and helicopters cannot safely fly based on
    daylight, they cannot respond," said Ray Snodgrass, chief deputy
    director of the California Department of Forestry. "We certainly
    don't want to kill any pilots."
    The call from the county dispatcher came minutes after pilots
    had left the airstrip in Ramona for the night, Serabia said.
    Serabia was off Saturday, but said that if word had arrived
    sooner, a plane could have dropped 3,200 gallons of chemical
    retardant within eight minutes. What's more, pilots might have
    slipped in a second flight because once a plane is engaged, it can
    fly up to 30 minutes after cutoff.
    "The aircraft would have been able to suppress the fire, or at
    least hold it in check," Serabia said.
    Still, he said hindsight was pointless.
    "It's easy to say 'What if we did this,' or 'What if we did
    that,"' said Serabia, a 35-year veteran firefighter. "I'm not
    going to second-guess it. That's what we have to live with - what
    happened, what transpired from that point after cutoff."
    The rules may help save pilots, but they were cold comfort to
    the son of one man who died hours after the county helicopter was
    called off.
    Stephen Shacklett was killed shortly after 3 a.m. Sunday when he
    tried to race away from the flames in his motorhome.
    Told of Saturday evening's events in the air, his son was
    incredulous on Thursday.
    "The hugest fire in California history," said Stephen
    Shacklett Jr., "and they had a chance to put it out."
    ---
    Associated Press Writers Kim Curtis and Elliot Spagat
    contributed to this report.
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    Default Arnie where are you?

    Downunder the only news we get of the CA fires is Big Arnie in Washington asking for rebuilding funding. Seems a little premature.
    Get these under control first - do the resources exist to do this? - the polies job is to ensure adequate resources are available to fight these fires. Overhaul always comes later. Take a lesson in basic firefighting Arnie and you may understand the priorities.

    The USA is a country that is able to provide the resources to conquer others but unable to control an incident within its own borders.

    By the way - good luck to those out there on the fire line doing the hard work.
    Last edited by wombat; 11-01-2003 at 05:29 PM.

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    Nov 1, 2:43 AM EST

    California Wildfires at a Glance

    By The Associated Press


    Major California wildfires had spread across 739,906 acres by Friday, killed 20 people and destroyed 3,398 homes:

    -CAMP PENDLETON, San Diego County: No deaths, 9,000 acres. Started Oct. 21 on the Marine base, cause under investigation. Contained.

    -CEDAR FIRE, San Diego County: 14 people dead, 275,833 acres burned, 2,207 homes and 515 outbuildings destroyed. Death toll includes one firefighter. Started Oct. 25, apparently by lost hunter setting a signal fire. Air traffic nationwide was disrupted when flames forced evacuation of a Federal Aviation Administration control center. 65 percent contained.

    -DULZURA FIRE, San Diego County: No deaths, 46,291 acres burned, one home, five outbuildings and 11 structures damaged. Started Oct. 26, cause under investigation. Contained. Briefly burned across border into Tijuana, Mexico.

    -GRAND PRIX FIRE, San Bernardino County: No deaths, 111 homes destroyed, 59,358 acres. Started Oct. 21, blamed on arson. 85 percent contained.

    -MOUNTAIN FIRE, Riverside County: No deaths, 21 homes destroyed, 9,742 acres. Started Oct. 26, cause under investigation. Contained.

    -OLD FIRE, San Bernardino County: 4 people killed, 851 homes, 10 commercial buildings destroyed, 91,281 acres. Started Oct. 25, blamed on arson. 25 percent contained.

    -PADUA FIRE, Los Angeles County: No deaths, 59 homes destroyed, 10,466 acres. Separated from Grand Prix fire in San Bernardino County. Contained.

    -PARADISE FIRE, San Diego County: 2 people killed, 56,700 acres, 169 homes and 179 outbuildings destroyed. Started Oct. 26, cause under investigation. 50 percent contained.

    -PIRU FIRE, Ventura County: No deaths, one home, six outbuildings and one commercial property destroyed, 63,991 acres. Started Oct. 23, cause under investigation. 40 percent contained.

    -SIMI VALLEY, Ventura and Los Angeles counties: No deaths, 37 homes and 278 outbuildings destroyed, 108,304 acres. Started Oct. 25, cause under investigation. 85 percent contained.

    -VERDALE FIRE, Los Angeles County: No deaths, 8,680 acres. Started Oct. 24, blamed on arson. Contained.

    ---

    Source: California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and local fire officials.

    Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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    Nov 1, 10:13 AM EST

    Cool Weather Aids California Firefighters

    By BRIAN SKOLOFF
    Associated Press Writer

    Davis says these wildfires have been very costly. (Audio)

    BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. (AP) -- For the first time in days, firefighters took a break from battling a massive blaze creeping eastward toward this mountain resort town, as a welcome chill helped their cause and temperatures were expected to fall even further into the low 20s.

    Hundreds of firefighters were resting overnight, recharging before returning to the blazes Saturday morning. Others continued bulldozing buffer zones around mountain communities.

    Fog, lower temperatures and lighter winds since Thursday have helped firefighters make progress against fires that have killed 20 people, destroyed more than 3,300 homes and burned about 750,000 acres across Southern California over the past week.

    Some 15,000 people have been evacuated from Big Bear Lake, a resort town northeast of Los Angeles that is the only major community still threatened.

    The Old Fire had scorched nearly 95,000 acres and moved to within six to eight miles of Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains by Friday night. But its spread had slowed and the fire was 25 percent contained. It remained west of the small mountain community of Green Valley, about five miles from Big Bear Lake.

    Pat Shreffler, a Kern County firefighter who is in charge of tracking the fire's movements, said thick fog and smoke have created visibility problems.

    "We've had difficulty knowing exactly where all the fire is, but it's moving slow with low flames," he said, leaning over a tabletop map of the area covered with black Xs and red lines marking the fire's progression.

    Up to six inches of snow was expected to fall in the mountains by Saturday evening, as unseasonably cold weather moved into the region. Winds gusting to 30 mph were also forecast.

    "This kind of weather is not going to put this thing out but it's slowing it down," Shreffler said. "It's looking better, but it's a little soon to be talking about bringing people back up."

    Forecasters said the heat and dry desert winds that whipped the flames into infernos could return early next week.

    As low clouds cleared sporadically throughout the day Friday, helicopters dumped water on the fire front and hand crews battled the blaze in "a very active, aggressive attack on the fire," Shreffler said. Scattered patrols were to remain in the forest overnight, ready to call in reinforcements in case of a flare-up.

    Crews had cut seven miles of firebreaks out of 30 miles needed to protect communities around the lake.

    Meanwhile, the 275,000-acre Cedar Fire - the largest individual blaze in California history - was 65 percent contained after burning for six days in the mountains northeast of San Diego.

    Firefighters said the threat had eased against Julian, a popular weekend getaway known for its vineyards and apple orchards. The blaze was expected to burn east into sparsely populated mountain and desert areas.

    In all, seven fires were still burning across four counties. Winds have carried smoke from the fires as far north and east as the Great Plains and Great Lakes regions, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which has used Earth-orbiting satellites to track the plumes.

    Those affected by the wildfires took time to celebrate Halloween at evacuation and disaster relief centers. Hundreds of families at an evacuation center in a San Bernardino International Airport hangar donned donated costumes and munched candy. Volunteers painted faces of children, who ate meals and candy on green cots covered with blankets.

    Some children from surrounding neighborhoods visited the center for trick-or-treating with the evacuees, who are from the mountain communities and San Bernardino.

    Farther west, in Claremont, many people were wearing costumes when Gov. Gray Davis and Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger toured a just-opened one-stop disaster relief center.

    ---

    Associated Press Writers Chelsea J. Carter and Elliot Spagat contributed to this story.

    Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
    September 11th - Never Forget

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    Nov 1, 2:34 AM EST

    Wildfires Increase Danger of Mudslides

    By JEREMIAH MARQUEZ
    Associated Press Writer

    LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Tens of thousands of people living in and around Southern California mountains scarred by deadly wildfire could face added dangers of mudslides and flooding in the months to come, officials say.

    "The risk is huge," said Peter Wohlgemuth, a hydrologist with the U.S. Forest Service. "If you get Noah's flood coming after these fires, a pile of sand bags isn't going to help much."

    The firestorm that roared through the San Bernardino Mountains burned away layers of vegetation - twigs, leaves and moss - leaving vast areas of top soil exposed.

    As a result, the ground is more susceptible to erosion and will retain much less water when the rainy season arrives, sending sheets of storm runoff racing toward the valleys below.

    "The vegetation is gone, and so there's nothing to hold the water back," said Thomas Meixner, assistant professor of hydrology and water resources at the University of California, Riverside. "It's a real hazard."

    To guard against the potential of mudslides and flooding, authorities are working to identify and protect areas facing the greatest threat, said the San Bernardino National Forest Service's Steve Loe, who's helping coordinate a rehabilitation team to cope with the destruction.

    Though few measures have been taken yet, there are ways to combat mudslides that include planting fast-growing grass, clearing water channels of excess debris and putting up structures to collect mud and rocks, officials said.

    Foothill communities in Rancho Cucamonga, Devore and San Bernardino could be vulnerable, Loe said. In Simi Valley, Santa Clarita and other areas near hillsides also may need protection, authorities said. The potential for ash and debris flow also exists in San Diego County's Ramona and Alpine communities, among others, officials said.

    On Friday, showers caused officials to issue a flash flood warning in parts of eastern Ventura County where the Piru Fire desiccated the soil. The warning was expected to be lifted later Friday night.

    The mountains are expected to see about a half-inch of rain through Tuesday from two systems moving in from the west and the north, said Bill Hoffer, spokesman for the National Weather Service. Up to six inches of snowfall are forecast for elevations above 5,000 feet.

    Experts said the mountainside, much of it charred bare by days of fires, can absorb the level of rainfall expected over the next several days. Of greater concern are the heavy winter storms that arrive in December and dump multiple inches, experts said.

    "We've seen whole blocks of homes that were filled with mud 6 to 8 feet deep," Loe said. "That was from a fire smaller than this."

    Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
    September 11th - Never Forget

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    Sheri
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    Post Sunday 11/2 Update

    Major California wildfires had burned 745,690 acres by Sunday,
    killed 20 people and destroyed 3,452 homes:
    -CAMP PENDLETON/ROBLAR NO. 2 FIRE, San Diego County: No deaths,
    9,000 acres. Started Oct. 21 on the Marine base, cause under
    investigation. Contained.
    -CEDAR FIRE, San Diego County: 14 people dead, 281,298 acres
    burned, 2,232 homes and 515 outbuildings destroyed. Death toll
    includes one firefighter. Started Oct. 25, apparently by lost
    hunter setting a signal fire. 90 percent contained.
    -DULZURA FIRE, San Diego County: No deaths, 46,291 acres burned,
    one home, five outbuildings and 11 structures damaged. Started Oct.
    26, cause under investigation. Contained.
    -GRAND PRIX FIRE, San Bernardino County: No deaths, 135 homes
    destroyed, 71 damaged. 59,448 acres burned. Started Oct. 21, human
    caused and under investigation. 95 percent contained.
    -MOUNTAIN FIRE, Riverside County: No deaths, 21 homes destroyed,
    10,331 acres. Started Oct. 26, cause under investigation.
    Contained.
    -OLD FIRE, San Bernardino County: 4 people killed, 851 homes, 10
    commercial buildings destroyed, 91,281 acres. Started Oct. 25,
    blamed on arson. 78 percent contained.
    -PADUA FIRE, Los Angeles County: No deaths, unknown number of
    homes destroyed, 10,466 acres. Separated from Grand Prix fire in
    San Bernardino County. Contained.
    -PARADISE FIRE, San Diego County: 2 people killed, 56,700 acres,
    174 homes and 192 outbuildings destroyed. Started Oct. 26, cause
    under investigation. 75 percent contained.
    -PIRU FIRE, Ventura County: No deaths, one home, six
    outbuildings and one commercial property destroyed, 63,991 acres.
    Started Oct. 23, cause under investigation. 80 percent contained.
    -SIMI VALLEY FIRE, Ventura and Los Angeles counties: No deaths,
    37 homes and 27 outbuildings destroyed, 108,204 acres. Started Oct.
    25, cause under investigation. Contained.
    -VERDALE FIRE, Los Angeles County: No deaths, 8,680 acres.
    Started Oct. 24, blamed on arson. Contained.
    ---
    Source: U.S. Forest Service, California Department of Forestry
    and Fire Protection and fire and law enforcement officials.
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    BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. (AP) - Firefighter Cory Scranton will
    never forget it - the heat of the flames, the barrage of burning
    embers and the man he couldn't save.
    His four-man crew was dispatched Tuesday from the Big Bear City
    Fire Department to the Crestline area to defend homes from the
    advancing wall of fire in the San Bernardino Mountains.
    "The flames were very aggressive," Scranton remembered,
    sitting Sunday in the Old Fire command post inside the city's
    convention center.
    "The objective was to protect the houses along the ridge," he
    said.
    "It was pretty smoky. We had a couple of instances where things
    were blowing up on us," Scranton said. "We got pelted by hot
    embers that were the size of golf balls. It was almost like they
    were being shot at us by a bunch of machine guns."
    Scranton and his crew took shelter under a porch.
    "It was pretty frightening," he said. "But we were holding
    the line."
    Scranton said fire engines lined the road in front of homes to
    fend off flames.
    "We heard radio traffic that there was a possible evacuation of
    firefighters in the area, a retreat, but it was unconfirmed," he
    said. "It was very smoky so I walked to a guy who I thought was
    the battalion chief. After a couple of seconds I realized he wasn't
    my chief."
    The man was a retired firefighter, in his 70s, dressed in full
    firefighter gear and prepared to defend his home.
    "He wanted to protect his house," Scranton said. "I told the
    guy to leave, but he said he wasn't going anywhere. He was going to
    defend his home."
    Scranton found the chief and received word that it was becoming
    too dangerous and firefighters were ordered to evacuate the area.
    The crews evacuated to the nearby Rim High School and stayed
    until the next morning.
    "Then we heard the story on the news, that the guy had died. We
    said, 'That's our guy,"' Scranton said.
    "His house didn't even burn down. Word was he died of a heart
    attack. He must've just been extremely frightened," Scranton said,
    rubbing his forehead.
    Firefighters later learned the blaze had jumped the fire line,
    which crews had spent the entire day before cutting, and burned
    many homes.
    "That was a big blow and it was an even bigger blow when we
    found out the gentleman had perished. Everybody in the crew was
    pretty upset." Scranton said. "I won't forget it."

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    Post Cuyamaca, CA

    CUYAMACA, Calif. (AP) - A yellowing map on the wall of the
    volunteer fire house tells the story of tiny Cuyamaca - of its
    people and history and, now, its loss.
    Long ago, someone hand-drew the location of every homesite and
    penciled in the owner's name, street number and lot size. Jim
    McKenzie can point from one to another and tell you who has lived
    where for how long and what they do or if they're retired.
    He can also tell you who has a home left.
    It was his job to take a marker and put a line over the sites
    still standing. Of 145 homes on the map, only 25 are smudged with
    black. "It just makes you sick," he said.
    From the suburban outskirts of San Diego to the mountains
    outside Los Angeles, Cuyamaca is one of many communities turned to
    a charred crater by California's catastrophic wildfires. Its homes
    are gone, but its soul and spirit are intact.
    Once, this place was a refuge from the hustle and bustle of San
    Diego, 40 miles southwest. Nestled along a winding, two-lane road
    high in the mountains, it was enveloped by towering oak trees,
    pines and meadows of golden grass.
    On one side is Lake Cuyamaca, an angler's paradise stocked with
    trout and bass. Next-door is the 26,000-acre Cuyamaca Rancho State
    Park, once home to the Kumeyaay Indians.
    Cuyamaca (pronounced Coo-ee-MA'-ka) is a Spanish version of the
    name Indians once used for the area - Ah-Ha Kwe-Ah Mac, or "the
    place where it rains."
    In summertime, visitors would flock here to fish, hike or ride
    horses. In winter, many drove up just to play in the snow.
    Yet for the 200 or so people who lived here - about 70 percent
    of them year-round residents - Cuyamaca was much more than a quick
    weekend getaway. It was a place to start over with new dreams, or
    live out the last years of life in quiet retirement. A place where
    everyone went to the fire department's Memorial Day pancake
    breakfast and the Labor Day barbecue. A place where neighbors were
    more like family.
    "It was paradise," said Willard Lepley, a ranger at Lake
    Cuyamaca.
    A lost hunter and a signal fire turned Cuyamaca from paradise to
    hell.
    It started the evening of Oct. 25 a few miles west of the
    community. Members of the volunteer fire department were
    immediately dispatched to help battle the blaze, only to be sent
    back two days later to fight futilely to defend their friends'
    homes - and their own.
    "Eight folks volunteer here. Seven of them no longer have
    homes," said Cuyamaca fire chief Carl Schweikert, 48. His home,
    and the automotive shop he housed there, couldn't be saved.
    "What's left of my toolbox is just about all that's in the
    shop," Schweikert said. His wife and 5-year-old daughter are
    staying with a relative, but he remains on the mountain, knocking
    out hotspots. "A bunch of customers' cars, my car, they're gone.
    There's nothing there."
    In fact, there is little anywhere.
    The homes of Cuyamaca were clustered atop a mountain overlooking
    the lake. From the road below, the view now is one of a gutted,
    blackened hillside - dotted only by brick and stone chimneys that
    rise eerily from crumbled foundations. From the hill above, a vista
    once obscured by thick trees now offers a sweeping view of the lake
    - but also mile upon mile of prairies gone from honey-colored to
    charcoal.
    Entire rows of log cabins were demolished beyond recognition.
    Oak trees were split in two and spill into what were family rooms
    and kitchens. Power lines dangle perilously over the streets.
    Many of the residents who fled last Tuesday have yet to see the
    devastation.
    The scene is just as ghastly in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park,
    where rangers estimate all but 1,000 acres were scorched. The
    historic stone building that housed the park headquarters and
    museum looks like a bombed-out shell.
    Rangers rescued two truckloads of artifacts from the museum -
    including ceremonial Indian costumes, pots and baskets - but not
    all could be salvaged. A school that provides environmental
    education for San Diego sixth-graders was also intact, although an
    old Boy Scout campground was lost as were several homes that housed
    park staff.
    "It's kind of like losing a close friend," said Ray Patton, a
    parks superintendent at Lake Tahoe who spent every summer at
    Cuyamaca camping with his family and later worked as a counselor at
    the scout camp. In town to help assess damage, the 58-year-old
    ranger could only shake his head as he surveyed destruction.
    In Cuyamaca, 73-year-old McKenzie was lucky. The home he and his
    wife built here 25 years ago was among those that survived.
    Lepley, the lake ranger, was less fortunate. The 46-year-old
    moved here from the San Diego area five years ago with his teenage
    son, "to be in the pine trees not the palm trees." When he drove
    up to see what was left of his home, all that could be
    distinguished were his son's basketballs, still sitting alongside
    the driveway.
    "Kind of discouraging," he muttered, picking up a piece of
    drywall and crumbling it in his hand.
    But rather than dwelling on what was lost, Lepley tried to find
    solace in what survived: A few lakeside cabins, the fleet of
    fishing boats and the restaurant and tackle shop just down the
    hill, where the manager posted a sign on the front door asking
    residents to call him.
    "We'll plan our attack to get back on our feet," he wrote.
    "ASAP."
    A few feet away sat a cluster of pots filled with bright,
    blooming roses. To Lepley, they were a sign of hope. If something
    so delicate could endure the fire's fury so, too, could Cuyamaca.

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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    Post

    SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) - The four crew members of Engine 43
    were navigating their way up the narrow, windy highway toward a
    fire raging in the San Bernardino Mountains when flames jumped the
    road and forced them to turn back.
    It was the first day on the job for a crew that had never worked
    together before, and to say it was a memorable one would be an
    understatement.
    For the next week, the four firefighters from Northern
    California's Contra Costa County would battle towering walls of
    flame and black clouds of ash and debris. They would sometimes have
    to watch helplessly as pocket after forested pocket of homes were
    reduced to cinders. And they would celebrate the small victories -
    saving a church or a couple of houses here and there.
    By the time they had put in a week battling the Old Fire, one of
    the biggest of several wildfires that destroyed more than 3,000
    homes over the past two weeks, they would feel more like a family
    than a crew.
    "I don't think I'll ever forget this," said firefighter Alan
    Williams, 47. "I've never seen nothing like this, the fire, the
    destruction."
    The four men were hastily patched together from various fire
    stations in the neighboring cities of Orinda and Moraga and
    dispatched to San Bernardino County on Oct. 26 as part of a
    five-engine strike team.
    Less than two hours after their arrival, the crew was headed
    into the mountains when the wind-driven fire jumped the highway and
    raced toward the community of Crestline.
    "It cut us off and kind of chased us out," said fire engineer
    Sean McGee, 35. "Everything was breaking loose. We just wanted to
    get some place to do our job."
    Nearby, one of the fire's other fronts had jumped another
    highway and was threatening the community of Highlands. Their
    strike team battalion chief rerouted the crew, and within minutes
    it was in the fight.
    The crew made its first stand between the fire and homes in
    Highland, fighting back the blaze. It was a short-lived victory,
    however, as hours later crew members were back on the road, heading
    toward more hot spots.
    They spent most of their first two days battling spot fires in
    the Crestline area. At one point they were parked along the town's
    Main Street when word came that a church was on fire.
    Days later, they can't remember the name of the church, but they
    remember the outcome.
    "We saved it. It's a little black on the back side. But it's
    still there," McGee said.
    They weren't as successful with other buildings.
    "How many burned foundations did we see?" Williams asked.
    "Lots," came the answer from firefighter Anthony Perry, 36.
    By Wednesday, the fire's devastation was becoming too familiar
    for Capt. Glen Lewis. He was the only crew member to have
    previously witnessed such "a level of destruction, houses burning
    everywhere."
    That was during the 1991 Oakland Hills fire that killed 25
    people, destroyed more than 3,000 homes and caused an estimated
    $1.7 billion in damage.
    Never again had there been wildfire damage in California
    approaching that until the last two weeks, when the Old Fire and
    other blazes scattered from San Diego County to the suburbs north
    of Los Angeles destroyed more than 3,300 homes and killed 20
    people.
    As the Old Fire raged through the mountain community of Cedar
    Glen, destroying more than 350 homes there, the crew was dispatched
    to a neighborhood to make a stand against the flames.
    As the fire came bearing down, it suddenly split in two
    different directions, sparing the houses.
    Crew members had little time to celebrate that turn of fate,
    however. Soon they would learn that Steve Rucker, an 11-year
    veteran of the Novato Fire Protection District, had been killed
    when a blaze in San Diego County overtook his four-man crew.
    It was a particularly hard moment for Perry, who had worked with
    Rucker on a San Francisco Bay area ambulance crew years before.
    "I didn't try to put it out of my head," Perry said. "I
    wanted to remember it. He was just like us. He had a wife and two
    children."
    By Thursday, cooler weather brought some welcome relief for the
    crew, as well as a whole set of new problems; ash and fog that
    reduced visibility to zero.
    "We were stopped in our tracks. For three hours we couldn't
    move because we couldn't see the road," McGee said.
    When rain turned to ice on Friday, and it became too dangerous
    to navigate the mountain roads in their heavy, lumbering fire
    truck, the crew was ordered to the safety of a fire camp in San
    Bernardino.
    "I got my first full night's sleep right here," said Perry,
    stamping the asphalt. "I slept right here, in the rain."
    Saturday, the crew members sat with their engine's motor running
    - waiting to go home.
    Finally came the word from their team leader: "We're released.
    We're good to go."

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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    CUYAMACA, Calif. (AP) - Volunteer firefighter Carolina Finch was
    trying to save a convalescent home when she glimpsed the angry
    orange glow in the sky over her own neighborhood. Rounding the
    corner, she saw what used to be her two-story redwood house.
    As the sun rose the next morning, it became clear that she was
    not the only firefighter whose home was destroyed.
    "Dave lost his. God, Carl lost his," she told a fellow
    firefighter as they raced off to fight the monstrous blaze that
    roared through San Diego County last week. "Every single one of us
    lost our house. Isn't that something? Damn the luck."
    Seven of eight volunteer firefighters at the Lake Cuyamaca Fire
    Department and three firefighters at the nearby Julian station lost
    their homes when flames whipped through the area last Tuesday.
    They had been struggling to save their communities - at one
    point making a dramatic stand that helped save Julian's historic
    downtown - even as their own homes were reduced to crumbling
    foundations and ash.
    Battalion Chief Carl Schweikert lost his auto repair business
    and his home. "We were so busy, we never went after our own,"
    Schweikert said.
    The Southern California wildfires killed 20 people, destroyed
    more than 3,400 homes and scorched more than 750,000 acres over the
    past two weeks before cooler, calmer weather enabled firefighters
    to gain the upper hand.
    Most of the deaths and most of the destroyed homes were in San
    Diego County, where a 280,000-acre blaze was apparently started by
    a lost hunter who set a signal fire.
    Around this mountain town 40 miles northeast of San Diego,
    barren trees tower over blackened piles of debris. Bushes look like
    black toothpicks poked into the scarred earth. Houses have been
    reduced to scorched squares of land resembling slices of burned
    toast. Only 25 of 145 homes survived in Cuyamaca.
    Last week, fire Capt. George Hatton, 53, was using a chain saw
    to cut through fallen tree limbs and brush when he and his crew
    finally reached his own neighborhood Wednesday. He was alone when
    he came to what remained of his home. The tears flowed.
    "I didn't really think about my house burning down when I'm
    fighting a fire," he said.
    Over the weekend, he and his family trudged through the black
    mess that used to hold years of memories. He and his wife were
    married here 25 years ago; they buried dogs here.
    As he walked, roof shingles disintegrated beneath his feet. The
    windmill that once turned in their front yard was still intact but
    had been turned a chalky black. His collection of toy trucks
    consisted of only the vehicles' little frames.
    "We had decks that went out that way," Hatton said, pointing
    to empty space. "That's all back yard over there. The deck was
    actually our favorite place. It was wonderful."
    His wife, Sue, called to Hatton, excited to find a ceramic bowl
    their son painted in 1986.
    The firefighters here know how strange it sounds for them to
    have lost their homes. "It's like a doctor being sick," Finch
    said.
    Firefighter Dave Southcott, 47, always thought he would be able
    to save his home. After all, that is his job. After the fires swept
    through, he said, "We joked about it. We were laughing to cover up
    what we really wanted to do."
    Southcott said he was more worried about elderly neighbors with
    no insurance, and happy that he was able to save his best friend's
    home.
    "A lot of people lost a lot more," he said, picking through
    donated clothing at the firehouse.
    Residents and out-of-towners have been dropping off food,
    clothing and money at the firehouse, where most of the displaced
    firefighters are living. Neighbors whose homes survived have
    stopped by to say thanks. A 12-year-old girl drew a picture of a
    firefighter spraying flames and wrote, "I'm sorry you lost your
    homes."
    And Hatton and his wife plan to temporarily move into a travel
    trailer a New Mexico family brought for firefighters to use until
    their homes are rebuilt.
    "I just can't complain," Hatton said.
    ---
    EDITOR'S NOTE - Angie Wagner is the AP's Western regional
    writer, based in Las Vegas.
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    BIG BEAR, Calif. (AP) - Exhausted firefighters were sent home
    Monday as remaining crews doused hotspots and watched for new ones
    - the vast wildfires that ravaged parts of Southern California all
    but surrounded.
    More than 27,000 people remained displaced from their homes, but
    that was well down from the 80,000 at the peak of the fires, said a
    spokesman for the state Office of Emergency Services.
    Sylvia Illman, forced to flee the community of Lake Arrowhead,
    said that after a week in a pop-up tent parked in a friend's
    driveway, she found herself arguing with her husband and snapping
    needlessly at her two boys, ages 5 and 3.
    "We can't help it. The stress level is unbelievable," she
    said. "I want to go home."
    All fires were expected to be surrounded by Tuesday, if not by
    Monday evening, said Andrea Tuttle, director of the California
    Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
    Cool, moist air smothered remnant flames after a front moved in
    off the Pacific on Halloween and brought rain to some areas and
    snow in the mountains. "The weather continues to be healthy for
    us," Tuttle said.
    The 91,281-acre Old Fire, the last of the blazes to threaten
    communities, was 93 percent contained as it smoldered in forest
    atop the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles.
    Small plumes wafted up from charred areas as scattered fire
    engine crews sprayed smoky spots and utility crews restrung lines
    to restore power.
    "This is definitely not the flaming front that occurred last
    week," said Ann Westling, a Forest Service spokeswoman in Big
    Bear.
    The optimism was tempered as the death toll rose to 22, with San
    Bernardino County authorities on Monday reporting two fire-related
    fatalities. Both died of suspected heart attacks over the weekend.
    President Bush was scheduled to tour devastated areas of San
    Diego County Tuesday with Gov. Gray Davis and Gov.-elect Arnold
    Schwarzenegger.
    Davis said Monday that, in consultation with Schwarzenegger, he
    had appointed a commission to review the firefighting effort and
    make recommendations to prevent future catastrophic fires.
    East of San Diego, Schwarzenegger toured fire-stricken
    neighborhoods and spoke to firefighters in El Cajon. "It doesn't
    make any sense that so many people have to suffer so much because
    of a disaster like that," he said.
    Also Monday, the body of the only firefighter who died battling
    the fires was flown home to Marin County. Steven Rucker, an 11-year
    veteran of the Novato Fire Protection District, died Wednesday.
    Capt. David Jones cried as a white hearse carried Rucker's body.
    "Firefighters try to put on a tough skin and not let the soft side
    show," Jones said. "You can try to hold back your tears but you
    can't."
    The wildfires swept across more than 743,000 acres and destroyed
    more than 3,587 homes. About 16,000 firefighters were brought in
    last week to battle the flames; nearly half that number were on
    duty Monday.
    Efforts were rapidly turning to preventing mudslides and
    flooding. "With the weather now, the race is on to get that
    work," said CDF Deputy Chief Bill Schultz.
    San Diego County's 280,000-acre Cedar Fire was 99 percent
    contained while the 56,700-acre Paradise Fire was at 75 percent.
    San Bernardino County's Grand Prix Fire was 97 percent contained
    after burning more than 59,000 acres, and the 64,000-acre Piru Fire
    in Ventura County was 85 percent surrounded.
    The body of the only firefighter to die battling the fires was
    returned to Marin County on Monday as about 300 firefighters and 50
    fire engines from around the state stood along a runway in tribute.
    A white hearse carried the body of Steven Rucker as kilt-clad
    firefighters played "Amazing Grace" on bagpipes.
    In the San Bernardino mountains, temperatures were just above
    freezing as clouds and fog hung low over mountaintop valleys from
    Big Bear west to the Lake Arrowhead area, where hundreds of homes
    burned last week.
    Many evacuees from Big Bear began returning home Sunday. But
    much of the Lake Arrowhead area remained off-limits. Three men were
    charged Monday with looting evacuated homes in San Bernardino
    County; all pleaded innocent.
    Some residents remained at evacuation centers; others were
    making do on their own.
    Patrick McConnell, an auto parts store clerk from Lake Gregory,
    was living a nomadic life with his 12-year-old daughter - with
    friends one night, at his mother's for two, at his ex-wife's for
    one - before finding a $50-a-night motel room.
    "It's hitting the bank book," McConnell said. "But I'm lucky,
    I guess. If I go a grand or two, it's better than some people."
    ---
    Associated Press Writers Ron Harris, Ken Ritter and Laura Wides
    contributed to this report.
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    Post Monday 11/3/03

    Major California wildfires had burned more than 743,000 acres by
    Monday, caused 22 deaths and destroyed more than 3,570 homes.
    - CAMP PENDLETON/ROBLAR NO. 2 FIRE, San Diego County: No deaths,
    9,000 acres. Started Oct. 21 on the Marine base, cause under
    investigation. Contained.
    - CEDAR FIRE, San Diego County: 14 people dead, 2,232 homes, 22
    commercial properties and 566 outbuildings destroyed, 280,293 acres
    burned. Death toll includes one firefighter. Started Oct. 25,
    apparently by lost hunter setting a signal fire. 99 percent
    contained.
    - DULZURA FIRE, San Diego County: No deaths, one home, and 16
    other structures damaged, 45,971 acres burned. Started Oct. 26,
    cause under investigation. Contained.
    - GRAND PRIX FIRE, San Bernardino County: No deaths, 135 homes,
    one commercial property, and 60 outbuildings destroyed. 59,448
    acres burned. Started Oct. 21, human caused and under
    investigation. 97 percent contained.
    - MOUNTAIN FIRE, Riverside County: No deaths, 23 homes
    destroyed, 39 other structures destroyed, 10,331 acres. Started
    Oct. 26, cause under investigation. Contained.
    -OLD FIRE, San Bernardino County: 6 people killed, 976 homes, 10
    commercial buildings destroyed, 91,281 acres. Started Oct. 25,
    blamed on arson. 83 percent contained.
    -PADUA FIRE, Los Angeles County: No deaths, no buildings
    destroyed, 10,466 acres. Separated from Grand Prix fire in San
    Bernardino County. Contained.
    -PARADISE FIRE, San Diego County: 2 people killed, 174 homes and
    192 outbuildings destroyed, 56,700 acres. Started Oct. 26, cause
    under investigation. 75 percent contained.
    -PIRU FIRE, Ventura County: No deaths, one home, one commercial
    property, and six outbuildings destroyed, 64,000 acres. Started
    Oct. 23, cause under investigation. 85 percent contained.
    -SIMI VALLEY, Ventura and Los Angeles counties: No deaths, 37
    homes and 27 outbuildings destroyed, 108,204 acres. Started Oct.
    25, cause under investigation. Contained.
    -VERDALE FIRE, Los Angeles County: No deaths, 8,680 acres.
    Started Oct. 24, blamed on arson. Contained.
    ---
    Source: U.S. Forest Service, California Department of Forestry
    and Fire Protection, and local fire and law enforcement officials.

    APTV 11-03-03 2243EST
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    EL CAJON, Calif. (AP) - Firefighters contained the biggest and
    deadliest of Southern California's wildfires Tuesday and turned
    their attention to mopping up other blazes and heading off
    mudslides when rains come.
    San Diego County's 280,000-acre Cedar Fire was surrounded after
    cool weather and on-and-off rain helped firefighters.
    "It's a load off," said Lora Lowes, a spokeswoman for the
    firefighting effort.
    Four other fires had been nearly contained by Tuesday night,
    officials said.
    Firefighters got a morale boost from a visit by President Bush,
    who surveyed some of the damage done by the blazes that have killed
    at least 22 people, destroyed about 3,600 homes and burned more
    than 740,000 acres of brush and timber.
    "I think when people realize the scope of these fires, the
    historic nature of these fires, they'll realize what a superhuman
    effort you all put in to save lives," Bush told a crowd of about
    400 firefighters.
    The next danger could be mudslides, because the fire has burned
    away the trees and bushes that keep soil in place on hillsides.
    Crews planned to begin reseeding, digging flood-control trenches
    and bringing in sandbags.
    Crews also were moving away from the front lines to hunt for hot
    spots and possibly bodies that have not been counted.
    "They're going area by area, systematically, to the communities
    that burned," Lowes said.
    Bush toured San Diego County's fire areas with Gov. Gray Davis
    and Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger.
    Mike Kobliska, a fire captain who spent 11 days battling the
    blazes on the front lines, said the president's speech lifted his
    spirits.
    "Not that we needed a pat on the back, but to say it doesn't
    feel good would be a lie," Kobliska said.
    More than 27,000 people were still out of their homes, down from
    80,000 at the peak of the fires, said Carl DeWing, a spokesman for
    the state Office of Emergency Services.
    Many firefighters had been sent home as well: There were about
    6,600 on the fire lines Tuesday, down from nearly 9,000 the day
    before.
    ---
    Associated Press Writers Brian Skoloff, Ron Harris, Ken Ritter
    and Laura Wides contributed to this report.
    ---
    On the Net:
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