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Sep 23, 2009 11:12 AM by Associated Press

College closes as Southern Calif. fire nears

A college threatened by a 13-square-mile wildfire closed Wednesday as flames burned in hills above the campus.

Moorpark College in Ventura County posted the closing announcement to its 2,500 students on its Web site Wednesday morning.

County fire spokesman Bill Nash said the fire did not weaken overnight but continued to grow. The blaze is just 10 percent contained.

County fire Capt. Ron Oatman said winds are expected to pick up Wednesday, increasing fire activity in rural areas on the eastern and western flanks.

Three firefighters have been injured fighting the blaze, which erupted Tuesday afternoon.

The fire is being stoked by the notoriously hot and dry Santa Ana winds. Airtankers - including a DC-10 jumbo jet and big helitankers - have bombarded flames with retardant and water.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneggar has declared a state of emergency for the county, freeing up state resources to battle the fire, which was one of several burning in Southern California Tuesday.

While an unknown number of evacuations were lifted late Tuesday in two neighborhoods, numerous homes remained threatened and evacuation orders remain in effect.

"Don't wait for an evacuation order if you feel like you're in danger," said Fire Capt. Ron Oatman.

The forecast for Wednesday called for more triple-digit temperatures, low humidity and weak to moderate Santa Ana winds, which blow from the northeast, speeding up and warming as they descend through mountain passes and canyons and push seaward. The air is extremely dry, lowering humidity levels and making brush easier to burn.

Moorpark City spokesman Hugh Riley said the water district authorized avocado growers to turn on irrigation sprinklers in their orchards. He noted Tuesday that the fire was following the path of a blaze several years ago.

"That was a big one and fortunately it burned a lot of the fuel that could feed this one," he said.

Some smaller wildfires broke out Tuesday as weather turned the region into a tinder box.

A blaze that ignited in Riverside County, 40 miles east of Los Angeles, burned 160 acres. It was about 60 percent contained and no homes had been lost.

Winds also caused some increased fire activity on ridgetops in the San Gabriels, where a gigantic arson-caused wildfire continues to smolder a month after it began. But Carol Underhills, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service, says a haze was caused by ash whipped up by the Santa Anas.

The fire burned across 160,557 acres - 251 square miles - of Angeles National Forest after it was ignited Aug. 26. At its peak it destroyed 89 homes and caused two firefighter deaths.

The fire remained 94 percent surrounded Tuesday, and fire commanders again pushed back the projected date for full containment, this time from Tuesday evening to Thursday morning, due to the weather.

The weather service also issued "red flag" warnings of fire weather conditions in other parts of California due to a combination of low humidity, high temperatures and wind.

Those areas included the hills east of San Francisco Bay and mountains to the north, the northern Sierra and northern Sacramento Valley and a large swath of the state farther north.

A 300-acre wildfire burning in a heavily wooded area of Sonoma County near Geyserville was expected to be contained Wednesday morning.

 

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