Surge of Southern California wildfire stopped despite 80 mph winds; 2nd round of gusts awaits

The Associated Press
May 1, 2014 07:40 AM

Students from Los Osos High School are evacuated from the school as a brush fire burning in Day Creek near the Etiwanda Preserve in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. Fire officials say winds gusting to 60 mph are pushing the flames through the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles, although no homes are in immediate danger. Several neighborhoods and at least seven schools in Rancho Cucamonga have been evacuated. There’s no word on what sparked the blaze but it comes in the midst of a heat wave that’s created extreme fire danger. (AP Photo/The Press-Enterprise, Stan Lim) MAGS OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT

RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. - Despite wild blasts of wind including a single, powerful gust that topped 100 mph (160 kph), firefighters in the foothills east of Los Angeles stopped the growth of a wildfire and began to surround it Thursday morning before more winds arrived.

Several schools were closed for a second straight day. But residents of more than 1,600 homes were told they could return, so long as they were prepared to evacuate at a moment's notice as they had to Wednesday.

"The message is 'Ready, set, go,'" said Rancho Cucamonga Fire Chief Mike Bell. "Be ready just in case something changes."

The fire stopped growing at about 1,000 acres and was 10 per cent contained, the U.S. Forest Service said.

Air that was choked with smoke a day earlier was far clearer.

But another round of powerful Santa Ana winds could change all of that quickly, especially with another day of temperatures hovering near 100 degrees.

Fire officials said Thursday's winds were expected to reach 30 to 50 mph (50 to 80 kph). That compares with winds of 60 to 80 mph ( 100 to 130kph) Wednesday, with one gust that measured 101 mph (160 kph) at a time of year when Santa Ana winds normally have yet to arrive.

The winds also grounded helicopters and planes in the firefight. Firefighters hoped they would be allowed to return to the air by afternoon, when winds are expected to dissipate.

Some 700 firefighters with 55 fire engines and four bulldozers were building containment lines around the fire's west edge, the side nearest homes.

The blaze erupted Wednesday in the foothills of the San Bernardino National Forest

The National Weather Service issued a red-flag warning of extremely dangerous fire conditions for Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties until 8 p.m.

The winds also fanned a handful of small brush fires around Southern California, but they were quickly doused.

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