A wildfire burned dangerously close to homes at the foot of the rugged San Gabriel Mountains, but firefighters stood their ground and turned the flames back.
The dramatic battle came on the third day of a 490-acre (198-hectare) blaze that has forced at least 1,000 people from homes in and near Santa Anita Canyon in the foothill suburb of Sierra Madre, 15 miles (24 kilometers) northeast of Los Angeles. All schools in the community of about 11,000 residents were closed on Monday.
Mayor Kurt Zimmerman was emotional as he recounted how the firefighters saved homes.
"Early this morning the flames had raced to within a couple feet of our homes in the canyon and those brave firefighters ... formed a perimeter with their bodies and their fire engines," he told a news conference. "It was a barricade of steel and water and human flesh and blood and they stopped the fire dead in its tracks." The fire's overnight advance reduced containment from 30 percent to 23 percent. Full containment was not expected for four to seven days.
The cause of the fire remained under investigation. The fire broke out Saturday afternoon in a popular hiking area as unseasonable extreme heat and low humidity set in over Southern California. By late that night it was a bright orange line descending like slow-moving lava down the steep mountainside, triggering evacuations along the interface between the city and wilderness.
Helicopters and airplanes bombarded the fire with water and retardant drops Monday while firefighters labored in temperatures in the 90s Fahrenheit (mid-30s Celsius) for a third day. About 500 firefighters were on the lines.
"It's a hot day and these are steep slopes," said Sierra Madre fire spokeswoman Barbara Croonquist. "And the fact that it's so near the city makes it hard."
Four firefighters had minor injuries, authorities said. A small outbuilding was destroyed.
The blaze stranded 50 guests from a wedding party at the Chantry Flats ranger station on Saturday until they were airlifted out Sunday afternoon.
In San Diego County, firefighters fully contained a blaze that burned 100 acres (40 hectares) of thick brush on the edge of Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve. The cause of the fire was being investigated, but it did not appear to be arson, fire spokesman Maurice Luque said.