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Crews battle Los Angeles wildfire that forced evacuations

California Wildfires
Posted at 7:29 PM, May 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-16 19:29:13-04

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A smoky wildfire churning through a Los Angeles canyon community gained strength Sunday as about a thousand residents remained under evacuation orders while others were warned they should get ready to leave, authorities said.

Cool, moist weather early in the day gave firefighters a break, but by afternoon flames starting moving again in steep terrain where tinder-dry vegetation hasn't burned in a half-century, the Los Angeles Fire Department said.

“We're definitely seeing increased fire activity,” said department spokeswoman Margaret Stewart.

No structures were damaged and no injuries were reported in the wildfire that broke out late Friday in the Santa Monica Mountains. It smoldered for much of Saturday before erupting in the afternoon.

A thousand or so residents of the Topanga Canyon area were ordered to evacuate their homes as flames raced along ridges, sending a huge plume of smoke and raining ash across surrounding neighborhoods and the U.S. 101 freeway to the north.

By midday Sunday the fire had charred about 2 square miles (5.1 square kilometers) of brush and trees. Later in the day, authorities warned a few dozen residents of a hilly neighborhood that they should prepare to evacuate if the fire continues to grow. There was no containment.

Los Angeles has seen very little rain in recent months, making for extremely parched conditions and high fire risk.

The cause of the fire near Topanga State Park has been deemed “suspicious” and is under investigation, the fire department said.

There were reports of a possible arson suspect spotted in the area Saturday, but a search by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department didn’t find anyone, Stewart said.

Crews relied on aircraft making drops of water and retardant because “the terrain is very steep and extremely difficult to navigate which hinders ground based firefighting operations,” a fire department statement said.

Topanga Canyon is a remote, wooded community with some ranch homes about 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of downtown Los Angeles, on the border with Malibu.