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California fires test firefighting manpower

by The Associated Press | September 23, 2020 at 5:03 a.m.
Family and members of the Big Bear Hotshots watch Tuesday as U.S. Forest Service pallbearers move the casket of fallen re ghter Charles Morton in Orange, Calif., after a funeral procession from San Bernardino. Video at arkansasonline.com/923 re/ and arkansasonline.com/923ca/.
(AP/The Orange County Register/Mark Rightmire)

LOS ANGELES -- A lack of firefighting resources in the hours after it was sparked allowed a fast-moving wildfire to make an unprecedented run through Southern California mountains and eventually find fuel in old-growth trees to become one of Los Angeles County's largest fires ever, an official said Tuesday.

The Bobcat Fire has burned for more than two weeks and was still threatening more than 1,000 homes after scorching its way through brush and timber down into the Mojave Desert. It's one of dozens of other major blazes across the West.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to view » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzhkWGwRAeI]

"This is a stubborn fire," Angeles National Forest spokesman Andrew Mitchell said. Only about 100 firefighters were initially dispatched on Sept. 6 when the Bobcat Fire started and swiftly grew to about 200 acres, he said.

"To put that into perspective, normally for a fire that size we'd have at least double or triple that number of firefighters," Mitchell said. At the time, many Southern California ground crews and a fleet of fire-retardant- and water-dropping aircraft were assigned to multiple record-breaking blazes in the northern part of the state.

By the time staffing was ramped up, flames had found their way deep into inaccessible forest. Embers floated across mountain ridges, igniting towering trees and creating an expanding wall of fire.

"A lot of that old growth hadn't seen fire in 40 or 50 years. The fire had a lot of places to go," Mitchell said. The blaze had more than doubled in size over the past week to 170 square miles.

As of Monday, the fire was still advancing at 1 to 2 mph at times and threatened the desert town of Pearblossom, Calif., after burning into the Antelope Valley foothill area, across the San Gabriel Mountains from Los Angeles.

The blaze has destroyed or damaged at least 29 homes and other buildings, with the toll rising to perhaps 85 when damage assessment teams can complete their work this week, authorities said.

Cheryl Poindexter lost her desert home.

"That fire came over the hill so hard and fast that I turned around, and I barely got my eight dogs and my two parrots out," Poindexter told ABC7. "You can see everything is ash."

Firefighters also battled flareups near Mount Wilson, which overlooks greater Los Angeles and has a historic observatory founded more than a century ago and numerous broadcast antennas that serve Southern California.

The fire was pushed by erratic winds over the weekend, although they had died down by Monday and were expected to remain light through Tuesday.

Near Mount Wilson, firefighters set more than a mile (1.6 kilometers) of fires designed to burn out the blaze's fuel and act as a brake on its advance.

"We've got a fire here that is bigger than the city of Denver, and it did it in two weeks," said Sky Cornell with the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

About 1,100 homes and some 4,000 residents remained under evacuation orders, and the fire was only 17% contained, fire officials said.

Evacuation warnings -- meaning residents should be prepared to flee if ordered -- remained in effect for the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena, home of the Rose Bowl and the annual Rose Parade, and Wrightwood, a mountain community near several San Bernardino County ski resorts.

The blaze was one of more than two dozen major wildfires burning across California, including five of the largest in state history.

Twenty-six people have been killed. Officials were investigating the death of a firefighter at another Southern California wildfire that started earlier this month from a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device used by a couple to reveal their baby's gender.

Charles Morton, 39, died on Sept. 17 while battling the El Dorado Fire in San Bernardino National Forest about 75 miles east of Los Angeles.

Morton, was a 14-year veteran of the U.S. Forest Service and a squad boss with the Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Crew of the San Bernardino National Forest.

"Charlie is survived by his wife and daughter, his parents, two brothers, cousins, and friends. He's loved and will be missed. May he rest easy in heaven with his baby boy," Morton's family said in a statement.

In this aerial photo provided by the U.S. Forest Service, smoke from a wildfire is in part of Medicine Bow National Forest on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. The fire burning since last Thursday, prompting an evacuation order for a 300-square-mile portion of the forest in southeastern Wyoming. (Jerod Delay/U.S. Forest Service via AP)
In this aerial photo provided by the U.S. Forest Service, smoke from a wildfire is in part of Medicine Bow National Forest on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. The fire burning since last Thursday, prompting an evacuation order for a 300-square-mile portion of the forest in southeastern Wyoming. (Jerod Delay/U.S. Forest Service via AP)
A fire crew from the Oregon Air National Guard douses hot spots on the fire lines of the Holiday Farm Fire, east of Springfield, Ore., Monday Sept. 21, 2020. (Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via AP)
A fire crew from the Oregon Air National Guard douses hot spots on the fire lines of the Holiday Farm Fire, east of Springfield, Ore., Monday Sept. 21, 2020. (Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via AP)
Cheryl Poindexter returns to her property on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020 after the Bobcat fire burned her home of 27 years and the 11 acre property where she ran an animal rescue in Juniper Hills, Calif. as her friend Dale Burton, of Leona Valley, tries to put out the fire that continues to smolder in her septic. (Sarah Reingewirtz/The Orange County Register via AP)
Cheryl Poindexter returns to her property on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020 after the Bobcat fire burned her home of 27 years and the 11 acre property where she ran an animal rescue in Juniper Hills, Calif. as her friend Dale Burton, of Leona Valley, tries to put out the fire that continues to smolder in her septic. (Sarah Reingewirtz/The Orange County Register via AP)
A vehicle moves through a burned area of the Holiday Farm Fire, east of Springfield, Ore., Monday Sept. 21, 2020. (Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via AP)
A vehicle moves through a burned area of the Holiday Farm Fire, east of Springfield, Ore., Monday Sept. 21, 2020. (Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via AP)
Robert Wise hugs on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020 his neighbor Cheryl Poindexter, who lost her home of 27 in the Bobcat fire. Poindexter ran an animal rescue on her 11 acres along Juniper Hills Road. (Sarah Reingewirtz/The Orange County Register via AP)
Robert Wise hugs on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020 his neighbor Cheryl Poindexter, who lost her home of 27 in the Bobcat fire. Poindexter ran an animal rescue on her 11 acres along Juniper Hills Road. (Sarah Reingewirtz/The Orange County Register via AP)
This drone photo provided by Michael Mann shows the Oregon Capitol building, with its "Oregon Pioneer" bronze sculpture atop the dome, with skies filled with smoke and ash from wildfires as a backdrop in Salem, Ore., on Sept. 8, 2020. Fires continued to rage across the West Coast on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. (Michael Mann via AP)
This drone photo provided by Michael Mann shows the Oregon Capitol building, with its "Oregon Pioneer" bronze sculpture atop the dome, with skies filled with smoke and ash from wildfires as a backdrop in Salem, Ore., on Sept. 8, 2020. Fires continued to rage across the West Coast on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. (Michael Mann via AP)
Dale Burton, of Leona Valley, tries to put out the fire that continues to smolder at his friend Cheryl Poindexter's property on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020 after the Bobcat fire burned her home of 27 years and the 11 acre property where she ran an animal rescue in Juniper Hills, Calif. (Sarah Reingewirtz/The Orange County Register via AP)
Dale Burton, of Leona Valley, tries to put out the fire that continues to smolder at his friend Cheryl Poindexter's property on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020 after the Bobcat fire burned her home of 27 years and the 11 acre property where she ran an animal rescue in Juniper Hills, Calif. (Sarah Reingewirtz/The Orange County Register via AP)
A fire crew from the Oregon Air National Guard works to dig out hot spots on the fire lines of the Holiday Farm Fire, east of Springfield, Ore., Monday Sept. 21, 2020. (Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via AP)
A fire crew from the Oregon Air National Guard works to dig out hot spots on the fire lines of the Holiday Farm Fire, east of Springfield, Ore., Monday Sept. 21, 2020. (Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via AP)
In this aerial photo provided by the U.S. Forest Service, smoke from a wildfire is in part of Medicine Bow National Forest on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. The fire has been burning since last Thursday, prompting an evacuation order for a 300-square-mile portion of the forest in southeastern Wyoming. (Jerod Delay/U.S. Forest Service via AP)
In this aerial photo provided by the U.S. Forest Service, smoke from a wildfire is in part of Medicine Bow National Forest on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. The fire has been burning since last Thursday, prompting an evacuation order for a 300-square-mile portion of the forest in southeastern Wyoming. (Jerod Delay/U.S. Forest Service via AP)
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