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Crews Hope To Set Backfires In Los Angeles Blaze

Crews hope favorable weather conditions will allow the setting of backfires to destroy fuels that would help spread a 2-week-old deadly wildfire that is still burning unchecked deep into the forest above Los Angeles.

Unpredictable winds delayed backfiring plans Monday and Tuesday, and crews would reassess the conditions Wednesday, incident commander Mike Dietrich said.

Two weeks after the arson fire was ignited on a lonely stretch of mountain highway, the blaze was 60 percent contained after blackening 160,357 acres, or 250 square miles, of Angeles National Forest. Two Los Angeles County firefighters were killed Aug. 30 when flames overran their truck and they plunged off a mountain road.

Firefighters remain focused on the fire's eastern flank in the San Gabriel Wilderness. Officials said fire activity is diminishing but the flames flare up at night as heat is trapped near the ground and humidity plummets.

"Either the winds were not right out on the line or they may have been what they call squirrelly, not predictable, and the people out there in charge of them just did not feel comfortable taking that on today," Dietrich said.

More than 400 firefighters were working to build containment lines on the fire's eastern flank, said U.S Forest Service spokesman Nathan Judy.

"They've got one foot in the black, one in the green — cutting fuel out near the fire line," he said.

Also on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to focus on prevention of erosion when winter rains fall on areas blackened by the state's wildfires.

"Erosion from steep hillsides will threaten water quality and often cause mudslides that damage property downstream and can seriously exacerbate flooding, as debris, mud and rocks clog flood basins," Boxer said in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The California Democrat urged the department to use resources from such sources as the Emergency Watershed Protection program.

The program provides funds and technical assistance to help local governments clear debris from watercourses, stabilize riverbanks and restore vegetation, according to the Web site of the department's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a $50,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of whoever set the blaze. The state has already offered a $100,000 reward.

In addition to the two deaths, 11 firefighters have been injured and 78 homes, two commercial buildings and dozens of outbuildings have been destroyed.


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