ANAHEIM, Calif. – A stolen Honda Civic that was set ablaze sparked a wildfire that threatened houses in the hills southeast of Los Angeles and forced hundreds to temporarily evacuate, officials said Monday.
Anaheim investigators were reviewing security videotape from early Sunday taken at a toll road in an attempt to identify whoever ditched the car, city spokesman John Nicoletti said.
The 3-square-mile blaze, which damaged one home and two outbuildings, was 80 percent contained Monday afternoon, up from just 30 percent early in the day, fire officials reported. Another home initially reported as damaged was not harmed, said Capt. Steve Miller of the Orange County Fire Authority.
Firefighters predicted the fire would be fully contained by Tuesday morning.
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A red flag alert, indicating high fire danger, remained in effect in much of Southern California, where a prolonged drought has made the chaparral-covered hills highly combustible.
"With the current conditions we're seeing, if we do have fires, we're looking at real extreme fire behavior," Miller said.
A 1,044-acre blaze that began Sunday in rural Riverside County was declared controlled Monday evening.
The Anaheim wildfire was reported Sunday morning, and hot, dry wind quickly spread it through an unincorporated neighborhood where it threatened multimillion-dollar homes about 35 miles southeast of Los Angeles.
Residents of about 500 homes were evacuated but most were able to return Sunday night.
Temperatures hit record highs for March 11 in many spots, including 97 in nearby Fullerton. The city's previous record high for the day was 84 degrees in 1959. The wind gusted to 49 mph and humidity hovered around 5 percent.
Monday was a bit cooler, with highs in the 80s and 90s, and a 10-degree drop was expected Tuesday.
The last time it was this dry was more than 80 years ago, when 2.5 inches of rain were recorded through March 22, 1924. Only about 2.4 inches of rain have fallen on downtown Los Angeles since July 1. Normal annual rainfall in Los Angeles is 11.43 inches.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's weather models suggest that an emerging La Nina pattern of cold water in the tropical Pacific will keep the area dry.