As California fires spread, residents return

Firefighters await daybreak to learn the new extent of the six-day-old fire, which is now expected to burn for weeks.

California Wildfires firetruck 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
California Wildfires firetruck 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Some Southern California residents have begun to return to the ashes of their homes and ponder what's next even as wildfires continue to fan out, destroying 53 homes and threatening 12,000 others. Flames are plowing through half-century-old thickets of tinder-dry brush, bush and trees just 24 kilometers north of downtown Los Angeles. Firefighters awaited daybreak to learn the new extent of the six-day-old fire, which is now expected to burn for weeks. The blaze threatened some 12,000 homes but had already done its worst to the suburban Tujunga Canyon neighborhood, where residents returned to their wrecked homes. Bert Voorhees and his son on Monday fetched several cases of wine from the brackish water of their backyard swimming pool, about all he salvaged from his home. "You're going to be living in a lunar landscape for at least a couple of years, and these trees might not come back," the 53-year-old Voorhees said. "Are enough of our neighbors going to rebuild?" Two-thousand people were chased from their homes as fire chiefs said it could take weeks to contain the fire. Fire spokesman Paul Lowenthal said Tuesday that the blaze is expected to be fully surrounded by September 15. By late Monday, the fire had scorched more than more than 424 sq. kilometers, or about 42,500 hectares, in parts of the Angeles National Forest. Only 5 percent of the fire, the largest of several California wildfires, was contained so far. Two firefighters - Capt. Tedmund Hall, 47, of San Bernardino and firefighter Specialist Arnaldo "Arnie" Quinones, 35, of Palmdale - were killed when their vehicle plummeted off a mountain road on Sunday. The 53 homes destroyed included some forest cabins, said US Forest Service spokesman Dennis Cross. He did not know how many were full-time residences. Fire crews set backfires and sprayed fire retardant at Mount Wilson, home to at least 20 television transmission towers, radio and cell phone antennas, and the century-old Mount Wilson Observatory. It also houses two giant telescopes and several multimillion-dollar university programs in its role as both a landmark for its historic discoveries and a thriving modern center for astronomy. If the flames hit the mountain, cell phone service and TV and radio transmissions would be disrupted, but the extent was unclear. T.J. Lynch and his wife, Maggie, were among residents who evacuated late Monday after the eerie orange glow on the horizon turned into flames cresting the hill near their Tujunga home. "It's pretty surreal, pretty humbling, how your life is represented in these objects that you collect and then you have to whittle them down," he said, describing the difficulty of choosing what to bring with them. The blaze in the Los Angeles foothills was the biggest but not the most destructive of California's wildfires. Northeast of Sacramento, a wind-driven fire destroyed 60 structures over the weekend, many of them homes in the town of Auburn. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday toured the Auburn area, where only charred remnants of some homes remained. At some houses, the only things left on the foundation are metal cabinets and washers and dryers. East of Los Angeles, a large fire forced the evacuation of a scenic community of apple orchards in an oak-studded area of San Bernardino County. Brush in the area had not burned for a century, fire officials said.