Calif. fire scorches 640 acres

The Baltimore Sun

LOS ANGELES -- Fed by strong Santa Ana winds, a wildfire destroyed more than 640 acres in San Bernardino County yesterday, the latest blaze to rip through Southern California this fire season.

More than 200 firefighters battled the blaze, which threatened to spread to a housing development about 60 miles east of Los Angeles.

Fire officials predicted that the blaze would be fully contained by 6 a.m. today. By late afternoon, the fire was 30 percent contained and was considered under control.

But firefighters remained on edge because the erratic wind, which was gusting to 40 mph, could bring the blaze back to life.

"There is a danger of sparks and embers blowing downwind that could restart things," said Steve Hansen, a spokesman for the San Bernardino County Fire Department.

The fire came a day after thousands mourned five firefighters killed in the Esperanza fire, which destroyed more than 40,000 acres and 34 houses in Riverside County and forced hundreds of residents to flee.

Yesterday's fire - called the Sierra fire for the street near where it burned - began about 7:35 a.m. The cause was under investigation.

Unlike the Esperanza fire, which spread through rugged terrain, the Sierra fire was on a flatter plain and threatened a large concentration of homes.

The fire burned within 100 yards of a housing development about three miles northeast of the intersection of Interstates 15 and 210, near the towns of Fontana and Rialto. I-15 is the main road from Southern California to Las Vegas.

The fire began in vegetation but spread south to a walled commercial lot used for the assembly and storage of wooden pallets.

A barricade of firetrucks protected the homes across from the pallet yard. Residents watched the battle to contain the fire.

"It's very scary," said Sue DeSilva, who lives in the Sierra Lakes subdivision across the road from the fire. "There are so many houses. If it comes to this side, it would just go from one house to another."

Catherine Curtis, 44, was taking her children to school when she saw the fire and plumes of smoke near the highway.

"They were very frightened," Curtis said. "But I said we don't have to worry about our safety. The worst that could happen is the house burns down - but everything can be replaced."

Exploding propane tanks in the pallet yard sent debris across Sierra Avenue, but no damage to the homes was reported, Fontana Mayor Mark Nuaimi said.

"It's a bunch of wood with a bunch of propane tanks exploding," he said.

Michael Muskal and Maeve Reston write for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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