LOS ANGELES – Officials say the entire western edge of the massive wildfire burning north of Los Angeles is under control, but the arson-caused blaze continues to burn unchecked to the east into the rural San Gabriel Wilderness.
U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Michelle Caldwell says the risk to homes is “significantly reduced” Saturday as crews hold the fire line to the north, south and west.
The blaze, which claimed the lives of two firefighters, has burned over 242 square miles and more than 76 homes. It is 42 percent contained.
A reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the arsonist responsible.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The ferocious wildfire burning north of Los Angeles has turned into a creeping giant, steadily chewing through thick and dry chaparral on its eastern flank. While crews report good progress, the blaze that claimed the lives of two firefighters was far from being fully contained.
Investigators, meanwhile, were working to find the arsonist responsible for the huge wildfire that has burned through 241 square miles, or 154,655 acres, of the Angeles National Forest. It was 42 percent contained Friday. More than 76 homes and dozens of other structures have been destroyed.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger offered a $100,000 reward Friday for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the culprit.
In the rugged terrain of the San Gabriel Wilderness, fire officials relied on aerial water drops to slow the flames and the backbreaking work of hand crews to build fire lines. While flames inched down steep canyons, crews defended a cluster of church camps and a bar along the Angeles Crest Highway. The fire was about five miles north of the foothill communities of Monrovia and Sierra Madre late Friday.
“A hundred-year-old fuel bed has a lot to burn,” said Deputy Incident Commander Carlton Joseph. “So we really need to button this up.”
The weekend weather forecast called for cooler temperatures and slightly higher humidity.
At least a dozen investigators are working to analyze clues found at a charred hillside, including incendiary material reported to have been found there. Officials said the fire was arson, but were still trying to find whoever was responsible and understand how it was set.
“We are in the early stages, just beginning to put things together,” said Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Liam Gallagher, who is heading the murder investigation. “Firefighters losing their lives in the line of duty is an added incentive, but we work every case to the fullest.”
Near a large shade tree where crews get their twice daily briefings, firefighters set up a makeshift memorial for Capt. Tedmund Hall and Specialist Arnaldo Quinones. The fallen firefighters helped save about 60 members of an inmate fire crew Sunday as flames approached their camp when they set a backfire that allowed the group to get to safety. The pair died when their truck plunged 800 feet down a steep mountain road.
Most wildfires are caused by human activity, and government statistics show that people were faulted for 5,208 wildfires in Southern California in 2008, the highest number since at least 2001. Between 2006 and 2008, Southern California was the only region of the country to see a significant jump in the number of wildfires blamed on people.
Still, very few of the forest fires lead to criminal or civil cases. The U.S. Forest Service recorded nearly 400 arson wildfires since 2005, records show.
The number of firefighters assigned to the Station fire continued to grow to more than 5,244, and a mini-city sprung up at a park in the Lake View Terrace neighborhood, complete with rows of showers, a mess hall that served firefighters 5,000-plus calorie meals each day and souvenir T-shirt vendors.
The cost of fighting the fire was estimated at $37 million so far.