Fast-Moving California Wildfire Forces Evacuations

A fast-moving brush fire scorched more than 2,000 acres of parched hillside and charred at least three homes Sunday, forcing authorities to evacuate more than 500 homes, Orange County fire officials said.

The 3-square-mile fire threatened many other houses and the firefighters working to protect them, Anaheim city spokesman John J. Nicoletti said.

"This is a very dangerous firefight," said Orange County Fire Authority Chief Ed Fleming. "The terrain is quite rugged, with homes on top of ridges, and the fire picks up speed as it heads up the hill."

Two firefighters suffered minor injuries, authorities said.

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The fire, stoked by hot dry winds and fueled by chaparral, spread south and west quickly in an unincorporated part of Orange County and threatened multimillion-dollar homes here and in Anaheim Hills, about 35 miles southeast of Los Angeles. Authorities said the blaze may have been started by a vehicle fire, and were investigating if the car was stolen and set on fire to destroy evidence.

Richard Steffy said he saw the fire out his window when he awoke Sunday morning.

"Boom, billows of smoke," he said. "It looked so close."

Capt. Steve Miller of the Orange County Fire Authority said afternoon winds blowing up to 35 mph made firefighting difficult for the more than 800 firefighters on the scene. Temperatures were in the 90s and humidity was at 5 percent. But slowing winds later in the day allowed firefighters to get 10 percent of the blaze contained Sunday evening, authorities said.

Firefighters were aided by helicopters and planes dropping water and retardant on the flames, and police went door to door to warn residents to evacuate.

The area, like much of Southern California, is under a red flag alert, indicating a high fire danger. A prolonged drought has left the chaparral-covered hills highly combustible.

Fleeing fires has become a part of life for many residents.

Susan Snell, who has lived in Anaheim Hills for 23 years, followed a well-worn routine Sunday: She put her cat in a carrier, packed tax and insurance papers and photographs and found a good vantage point.

"It's freaky what you end up taking with you," she said as she watched television at the Anaheim Hills Community Center for updates.

Meanwhile, another brush fire had started about 20 miles away in Corona in Riverside County, said Capt. Julie Hutchinson from the California Department of Forestry. It had consumed about 25 acres but didn't threaten any houses, said Hutchinson.

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