Foothills crews head south



Firefighters, fire engines, a helicopter and scores of support personnel from Tuolumne and Calaveras counties are helping fight infernos raging from Mexico to suburbs north of Los Angeles.

As of this morning, a dozen separate fires had claimed at least 17 lives, 15 in Southern California and two in Mexico. The blazes are scattered along an arc from the Los Angeles suburbs to Ensenada, about 60 miles south of the border. More than 1,100 homes had been destroyed in California as of this morning.

More than 500,000 acres of brush, forest and homes have burned in California, and firefighters hoping for a change in weather will have to wait at least one more day, though the south state winds have died down some.

Firefighters from throughout the West are heading to Los Angeles and San Diego to help from Nevada and Arizona. Foothills crews are no exception.

Personnel from the state Department of Forestry and various Mother Lode fire departments have been heading out since last week to help the overtaxed firefighters down south.

On Thursday, CDF sent a strike team of five engines and 16 people to the southland. Saturday, another 10 CDF engines from Tuolumne and Calaveras counties headed south, as did a Calaveras County strike team made up of personnel from five districts.

Jerry Snyder, spokesman for Stanislaus National Forest, said that during the past week, 105 forest staff, four engines and a helicopter have been deployed to fight the southern fires being fanned by the hot, dry Santa Ana winds, which have gusted as fast as 70 mph in recent days.

CDF has sent 22 people, from firefighters to finance to logistics specialists, said Andy McMurry, CDF duty chief in San Andreas.

Everyone is needed.

One of the biggest fire fights this morning was unfolding in the Santa Susana Mountains that separate Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, where 1.3 million people live, from the Simi Valley in neighboring Ventura County to the west.

That fire, which had destroyed 16 homes since beginning Saturday, was dangerously close to a gated community of million-dollar mansions in Los Angeles' Chatsworth section. It was only 5 percent contained as of this morning.

The Union Democrat
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