Fire


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Catalina, California…Water-dumping planes and helicopters helped beat back soaring flames that threatened this quaint Catalina Island town Friday, giving firefighters a victory that allowed nearly 4,000 evacuated residents to start coming home.

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Even though the six-square-mile blaze was only 35 percent contained, the wildfire and thick smoke were confined to the tinder-dry brush in the mountains of this narrow island 30 miles off Los Angeles.

Avalon’s cobblestone streets, brightly painted bungalows, landmark casino and tourist hotels were mostly spared, with only one home and several outbuildings burned. No one was seriously injured.

“Thank goodness the firefighters did get here because that made the difference,” said Martha Ashleigh, 61, who has lived on Catalina on and off for years. “We were watching from our balcony and we could just see truck after truck go up there. They were just fabulous.”

A day earlier, flames bore down from the mountains, raining ash and chaos on the crescent harbor. Evacuated residents clambered onto ferries that passed U.S. Navy hovercrafts packed with fire trucks from the mainland.

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Many were workers who cook and clean for vacationers. Others were at vacation homes as the summer tourist season geared up.

“It’s like a war zone. The skies turned completely gray with orange streaks. The helicopters were flying all over the place,” said Anita Bussing, a therapist whose other home is in Long Beach. “People were freaking out, children were crying.”

By Friday afternoon, one ferry full of residents was headed back to the island from Long Beach, and a relay of water-carrying helicopters saturated a hillside at the edge of town where smoke curled into the blue sky. The step appeared intended to extinguish any lingering hot spots.

The cause of the fire, which erupted Thursday afternoon in the 76-square-mile island’s rugged interior, had not yet been determined.

The island’s relative isolation has proven a liability before. A 1915 fire that started in a hotel burned half the town’s buildings.

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The island’s romantic vibe was memorialized in the 1958 hit “26 Miles (Santa Catalina).” Before private jets and third homes became standard fare for the rich and really famous, Santa Catalina was a celebrity haunt for the likes of Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Cecil B. DeMille.

About 300 movies have been shot on the island or in nearby waters, including “Mutiny on the Bounty,” “Chinatown,” “Jaws” and “Apollo 13.”

One relic of that era are the herds of bison that were brought over for filming and later released.

Environmentalists said it was too early to tell how the blaze affected the island’s overall ecosystem, home to rare animal and plant life, including the Catalina Island fox.

But four bald eaglets that hatched earlier this year without human help were unharmed, according to Bob Rhein, a spokesman for the Catalina Island Conservancy, which owns most of the island. The birds are a milestone in the reintroduction of the species, which was wiped out on the island decades ago by chemical contamination.

Just days before and about 50 miles away on the mainland, crews fought a fire in Los Angeles’ major park that singed a neighborhood of multimillion-dollar homes. That was the third menacing fire in the Hollywood Hills this spring and wildfire season here isn’t supposed to heat up until the fall.

Around the country, firefighters battled a wildfire in Georgia and northern Florida that burned 179,940 acres or 281 square miles since a lightning strike ignited it a week ago.

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The fire, which started last Saturday in the middle of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, took just six days to grow larger than a wildfire that has burned 116,480 acres of Georgia forest and swampland over more than three weeks.

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In Georgia, the fire posed a potential threat to the tiny city of Fargo, where 380 people live about eight miles west of the Okefenokee Swamp. Occupants of about 15 homes in a subdivision were asked to leave as a precaution because of the smoke and ash.

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About 570 homes in northern Columbia County, Florida, were evacuated overnight, and heavy smoke blanketed the area. A haze was seen in Miami, more than 300 miles away. (See where other fires are burning in U.S.)

To the north, a wildfire grew to nearly 86 square miles in northeastern Minnesota and across the border into Canada, cutting power and phone lines to many resorts and lake homes.

The fire, driven by high wind Thursday and fed by drought-parched forest, has already destroyed 45 structures and was threatening about 200 more. The chance of desperately needed rainfall was still days away.
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Thank you Associated Press.

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As you know Baby Boomer…I live in central Florida [about an hour to 45 minutes away from the fires] and this morning…once again, the air is full of thick smoke and ash. It has been over a month since the fires started and people are warned to stay inside because the air is so dence.

We pray for rain but are not getting any…as well a storm could start more fires with lightning. It is a chance I would take, since the rest of the area is drought stricken.

Thanks and cudos to the Red Cross and the Firefighters!

~The Baby Boomer Queen

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Hundreds flee South California Avalon Island’s wildfire…

From AVALON, California, Firefighters struggled early Friday to protect a resort island’s main city from a wildfire that forced hundreds of residents to flee on ferries as ash rained down like snow.

One home and a few small businesses in the canyons outside the city burned, but the weather helped firefighters keep most properties safe, Fire Chief Steven Hoefs said. Some 1,200 homes were under voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders.

“The risk has been reduced significantly,” Hoefs said. “Most of the structures have been protected.”

The blaze broke out Thursday afternoon and grew to 4,000 acres as it fed on dry brush, fanned by a steady wind into the night on the island about 30 miles off the Southern California mainland.

The orange inferno loomed behind the quaint crescent harbor, landmark 1929 Catalina Casino and homes, restaurants and tiny hotels clinging to slopes above the waterfront.

As flames threatened the city limits of Avalon, hundreds of people lined up at the harbor Thursday night to board ferries to the mainland. Many covered their faces with towels and bandanas as ashes fell.

Resident Kathy Troeger fled with her three children and a friend’s daughter, while her husband, a fire captain, stayed behind to fight the blaze.

“It was like a nightmare when we left,” she said after arriving at the mainland port of Long Beach. “You couldn’t breathe, and ash was falling like snow.”

At least 160 firefighters, aided by four water-dropping helicopters and three retardant-dropping air tankers, battled flames through most of Thursday. The helicopters flew into the night and were expected to be back in the air at dawn Friday.

Dozens of fire engines arrived through the night from as far away as Fresno, carried by giant military hovercraft from the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton.

Wind calmed during the night and the air grew moist, although the threat remained.

About 175 homes and businesses lost electricity when power poles caught on fire.

In Avalon, authorities used a bullhorn to urge people to evacuate and head to the beach. Visitors were directed to the historic art deco Casino until it lost power, while residents were sent to another harbor site.

The Catalina Express ferry service added night departures of 400-passenger vessels.

A family of eight said they had just enough time to pack some clothes and personal papers before fleeing.

“I’m scared,” said Angelica Romero, 30, holding her 7-month-old daughter. “But what’s important is I have my children. The rest doesn’t matter.”

About 85 people checked into an evacuation center set up at a high school, the Red Cross said.

Despite being well offshore, Catalina has been left parched by the lack of rainfall that has made the rest of Southern California particularly susceptible to wildfires like the one in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park this week.

Firefighters were still working Friday to surround what remained of that fire, which briefly chased people from homes and threatened the park’s landmark observatory and zoo.

Officials had expected the blaze to be fully contained by Thursday, two days after it peaked, but fire crews were still building containment lines around the fire’s perimeter late into the night, though no visible flames remained.

Catalina has gotten only 2 inches of rain since January.

A long, narrow island, Catalina covers 76 square miles and is served by helicopters and ferry boats from Los Angeles, Long Beach and other mainland harbors.

Avalon has a population of 3,200 that swells to more than 10,000 on weekends and in summer, according to the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau.

Most the island is owned by the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy and is home to various wildlife.
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Thank you Associated Press writers Andrew GlazerDaisy Nguyen and Christina Almeida in Los Angeles and Gillian Flaccus in Long Beach contributed to this report.
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NO GREEN HOUSE EFFECT…you say??? I say you are WRONG!

I pray that everyone got out and as little wildlife as possible was lost…Thank you Firefighters for containing the blaze under such unfavorable conditions.

~The Baby Boomer Queen~