California Firefighters Battle Major Wildfires

MOUNT BALDY VILLAGE, Calif. (AP) -- A wildfire that has destroyed dozens of cabins and forced the closure of 650,000-acres in Angeles National Forest prompted mandatory evacuations as smoke spread across communities northeast of Los Angeles.

The fire had scorched about 22,000 acres of the national forest by Wednesday morning, equal to about 11 square miles. The blaze was only 10 percent contained early Wednesday.

The fire was the larger of two big blazes in California. The other raced over 1,850 acres in a park south of San Jose, destroying 15 structures and threatening 50 homes. It was 25 percent contained early Wednesday.

The blaze northeast of Los Angeles more than doubled in size Tuesday. Some 2,000 firefighters were hampered by rugged terrain and temperatures that soared into the high 90s.

A fine layer of ash fell on cars and yards in several San Gabriel Valley communities on the eastern edge of Los Angeles, prompting air quality authorities to issue a warning.

Forty cabins and four federal research buildings were destroyed, and residents reported seeing 30-foot flames in some areas. The cost of battling the blaze has reached $1.5 million.

The cause of the wildfire was under investigation, although officials ruled out barbecues or campfires as a possibility.

Despite a mandatory evacuation issued at 8 p.m. Tuesday, about a dozen of the 600 residents in Mount Baldy Village stayed put.

``Why would we be nervous? We don't see any fire,'' said Ron Ellington, proprietor of the Mount Baldy Lodge built in 1914. ``The lodge has always been a place where people go in a time of crisis. The lodge has to stay open so people can find out what's going on.''

On the northern edge of Claremont, residents of 40 homes in Palmer Canyon were ordered to leave because the fire was fast approaching.

``I can see flame right from my back yard. We got ash in the back yard, on the sidewalk and the pool,'' said Los Angeles Dodgers manager Jim Tracy, who lives in Claremont, 40 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

The fire, which began Sunday evening near privately owned Camp Williams and Camp Fellows, had destroyed 40 of 77 cabins and four federal buildings in the San Dimas Canyon area. It burned just three miles southeast of an area scorched earlier this month by a 16,000-acre fire.

California's other major wildfire roared toward 250 threatened homes along the lushly forested Santa Cruz Mountains, destroying at least 15 structures. More than 1,000 firefighters were deployed.

Dozens of residents voluntarily evacuated their homes and officials warned those lingering to pack their cars so they could leave at a moment's notice. Officials believe the blaze was sparked Monday by a fire within a mobile home along the eastern side of the mountains.

The fire's thick smoke has hampered firefighting efforts. Air tankers were grounded for much of Tuesday until the smoke cleared a bit in the afternoon. The smoke was visible from downtown San Jose, 20 miles to the north.