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As L.A.-Area Fire Wanes, Dangerous Conditions Remain

2:21 PM, Jan 18, 2014   |    comments
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As hundreds of residents in suburban Los Angeles remained evacuated from a wildfire that continued to smolder Saturday, officials in drought-stricken California were beginning to take long-term action to deal with the conditions that helped fuel the blaze.

Mandatory evacuations remained in effect for 1,000 residents of Mountain Cove, said Robert Brady, fire information officer for the Angeles National Forest. Brady said two civilians had sustained minor injuries in the fire that burned 1,863 acres and was 30% contained by early Saturday afternoon Eastern Time.

Brady said 1,800 personnel, 104 fire engines, three helicopters and four bulldozers were involved in firefighting efforts.

"The main thrust today is protecting the Mountain Cove housing development, right across the river from the hot spot of where the action is now," Brady said. "We're reinforcing our lines, making fire lines bigger.

A red-flag warning remained in effect across Southern California through much of Saturday, bringing the prospect that high winds, low humidity and warm temperatures could cause additional problems.

"There are some areas here and there of unburned brush," Brady added. "They want to give those areas ground treatment around there so they don't flare up. There are lots of houses in there. Even if a quarter-acre patch of grass flares up, you've got a problem."

The Colby fire erupted early Thursday in the Angeles National Forest when Santa Ana winds hit a campfire that authorities said was recklessly set by three men, who were later arrested and are facing federal charges. Gusts quickly spread flames from the San Gabriel Mountains into Glendora and Azusa, where an estimated 3,700 people had to evacuate at the fire's peak.

Five homes were destroyed and 17 other houses, garages and other structures were damaged, Brady said.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown, who declared a drought emergency Friday, urged residents to cut water use by 20% and directed state agencies to take a range of steps to ease the effects of water shortages on agriculture, communities and fish and wildlife, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"We ought to be ready for a long, continued, persistent effort to restrain our water use," Brown said at a San Francisco news conference. "This is not a partisan adversary. This is Mother Nature. We have to get on nature's side and not abuse the resources that we have."

Brown's drought proclamation follows the driest year on record in California and came as reservoir levels continue to drop.

Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, which represents nearly 78,000 members statewide, welcomed Brown's declaration.

"Farmers across California face wrenching decisions today, as well as in coming months," Wenger said in a statement. "Will they have enough water to plant crops, to water their livestock, and keep trees and vines alive? An additional concern is how many people they may have to lay off as a result of water shortages. Any way the state and federal governments can provide assistance in adding water to the system will help."

Brown's drought declaration calls on California agencies to launch a statewide conservation campaign, expedite voluntary water transfers by rights holders to districts in need of supplies and hire additional seasonal firefighters this year to respond to elevated wildfire risk, the Times reports. It stops short of statewide water rationing, although some Northern California communities have imposed rationing and others are asking residents to eliminate outdoor watering.

"We can't make it rain, but we can be much better prepared for the terrible consequences that California's drought now threatens, including dramatically less water for our farms and communities and increased fires in both urban and rural areas," Brown said.

USA TODAY

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