Weather Hinders Backfire Plan on California Wildfire

Published September 09, 2009

| Associated Press

Unfavorable weather brought further delay Wednesday to plans to set backfires in the battle against the giant 15-day-old wildfire burning in Southern California's Angeles National Forest.

Containment notched upward to 62 percent and there was no increase in size, said Tom De Bellis, a spokesman at the fire command post in Irwindale, about 20 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles.

The fire has burned across 160,357 acres, or 250 square miles, of the San Gabriel Mountains north and east of Los Angeles since it was started by arson along a forest road on Aug. 26.

PHOTOS: California Wildfires Rage Near Los Angeles

Nearly 4,500 firefighters and 28 helicopters and airplanes were attacking the blaze.

But since Monday, unpredictable winds have foiled firefighters' plans to use backfires to contain the eastern flank in the San Gabriel Wilderness, an incredibly rugged preserve in the forest where elevations range from 1,600 feet to 8,200 feet and growth ranges from chaparral to pine and fir.

"If there's a window of favorable conditions we'll get it taken care of," De Bellis said.

The weather has included 12 percent to 22 percent relative humidity and winds from the southwest with gusts to 30 mph.

Temperatures in the Los Angeles region have been more moderate this week than in previous days of the fire, when high heat and little air movement clamped a smoky lid on the metropolitan area. Breezes from the ocean have since cleared the air and a deep marine layer has moved well ashore during overnight hours.

Any increase in relative humidity helps, De Bellis said.

A National Weather Service forecast called for an end to the respite, however.

A high-pressure system was expected to build across Northern California on Thursday and Friday, bringing warmer and drier conditions across Southern California. Inland temperatures will rise into the 90s, with some areas reaching 100. The NWS said some mountain areas will see humidity fall to single digit levels.

"It's always a concern when the high pressure builds in," De Bellis said.

The fire command post was moved eastward this week from Los Angeles to Irwindale, a small industrial city closer to the active east end of the blaze.

Neighboring suburbs below the southern face of the San Gabriels were keeping residents aware of the fire's status. Web sites for cities such as Sierra Madre, Arcadia, Monrovia, Bradbury, Duarte and Azusa generally advised that there was no immediate threat.

"Currently the threat to any communities has been diminished quite a bit," De Bellis said.

Two firefighters were killed Aug. 30 when their truck plunged off a mountain road, which has made the arson probe a homicide investigation.

The fire has destroyed 78 residences, two commercial properties and 87 outbuildings. It has damaged 13 residences, two communications sites, one commercial property and 30 outbuildings.

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