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Wildfires Rage in California

California_Wildfire

Wildfires Rage in California

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Wildfires continue to rage in Santa Cruz County, California, where thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate their homes. The wildfire has now grown to more than three square miles and is not contained.

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Los Angeles wildfire drives wildlife to backyards

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Los Angeles wildfire drives wildlife to backyards

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LOS ANGELES  – For residents of the scenic foothill communities above Los Angeles, chance encounters with deer, coyote and other wildlife are commonplace. The occasional bear or mountain lion will even wander into a backyard. They’re about to become more visible.

As the threat to humans from the 10-day-old Station Fire subsides, allowing displaced families to settle back into their homes, four-legged refugees are starting to emerge dazed, injured and hungry from the charred chaparral of the San Gabriel Mountains.

The Los Angeles County Public Health Department issued an advisory to residents on Friday warning them to “avoid wild animals that may have been displaced by the fires” and urging people not to feed them.

Animal control agencies say more residents are calling to report distressed or nuisance wildlife, and they expect those calls to increase as critters frightened into hiding from the fire begin to forage again for food and water.

“The wildlife will start coming down closer to urban areas outside of places you would normally expect them,” said Ricky Whitman, spokeswoman for the Pasadena Humane Society.

“Some people have reported seeing injured animals — bears, some deer,” she said. “We got a call from a woman yesterday … and her backyard was loaded with deer. But she was upset because they were eating her bushes. They’re hungry, they’re thirsty, they’ve been driven out by the fire and they really might eat your bushes.”

More than 145,000 acres (58,000 hectares) have burned, mostly in Angeles National Forest, in what is now the 10th largest fire on record in California.

One prominent resident of the fire zone is a mountain lion known to frequent ridgelines above NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, an area that burned last week. But the big cat has not been seen since since the blaze.

Coyotes, which regularly roam foothill neighborhoods to prey on small pets, may become more brazen than usual in their search for a meal.

“My advice to people in the foothills is to keep your domestic animals inside, cats and dogs, and certainly children,” Whitman said.

Experts say the biggest long-term fire threat may be to some of the least-noticed forest denizens: imperiled amphibians such as the mountain yellow-legged frog and arroyo toad, or birds such as the cactus wren or California spotted owl.

These creatures already are suffering from the effects of urbanization and can little afford further fragmentation of habitat, U.S. Forest Service biologist Leslie Welch said.

“The deer, the raccoons, the bear, none of these are endangered. Not that we shouldn’t care about them, but they’re going to be OK as a species,” said Travis Longcore, a University of Southern California wildlife specialist.

Large-scale incineration of dense mountain vegetation in the San Gabriel Mountains may not be all bad for some species.

Bighorn sheep, which inhabit higher elevations and thrive in areas where their chief predator, mountain lions, have less cover, actually appeared to have grown in number following previous fires in the San Gabriels, Welch said.

The Humane Society provides temporary shelter for wildlife, but so far has been busier dealing with the pets of evacuees.

“Someone brought us six wild ducks that they saw coming down out of the mountains when the fire was going,” Whitman said. “We got them a big portable swimming pool. They might have been confused but they were really happy.”

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California wildfire declared arson, homicide

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California wildfire declared arson, homicide

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LOS ANGELES  – A huge wildfire burning in the mountains above Los Angeles, now the largest ever in the county, was started by arson and will be investigated as a homicide, authorities said on Thursday.

The so-called Station Fire has killed two firefighters, destroyed 64 homes and torched an area the size of Chicago in the nine days it has roared across the rugged San Gabriel Mountains overlooking Los Angeles.

“After a forensic examination at the point of origin, arson investigators have concluded that the Station Fire was the result of an act of arson,” U.S. Forest Service Commander Rita Wears said.

The deaths of Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Ted Hall and firefighter Arnaldo Quinones, who were killed when their vehicle plunged 800 feet (244 metres) from a road, made the case a homicide, Wears said.

Authorities did not offer details about how the fire was started but an area near the city of La Canada-Flintridge, north of Los Angeles, has been cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape since Wednesday.

It was not clear if any suspects had been identified.

As of Thursday evening, the Station Fire had blackened 145,000 acres (59,000 hectares), or about 226 square miles (585 sq km), making it the largest wildfire recorded in Los Angeles county. It could ultimately become one of the top 10 in state history, in terms of size.

Authorities estimated containment of the massive conflagration at 38 percent, up from 28 percent a day earlier, according to fire commander Mike Dietrich, who said his force of more than 4,700 firefighters was making “great progress.”

By Wednesday night, the all-clear had been given for the last of 6,400 evacuated households to return home.

But a flare-up in one canyon early on Thursday led officials to order a small cluster of homes evacuated, and crews were concentrating their attack on the southeastern flank of the blaze to prevent flames from spreading.

One town on the fire’s southeastern fringe is Pasadena, known for its annual New Year’s Day Rose Bowl college football game and Tournament of Roses Parade. Fire commanders planned to brief residents in a meeting Thursday night.

Fire commanders said Mount Wilson, an observatory and telecommunications and broadcasting hub, would be spared.

The Station Fire has cost $21 million so far to fight, making it the most expensive of several California wildfires in recent weeks that already have depleted the cash-strapped state’s emergency firefighting budget by more than half.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has insisted the state has plenty of resources at its disposal for such emergencies.

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