Rain aids battle against Williams fire

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LOS ANGELES (AP) – Rain arrived Wednesday to help in the assault on a 3,800-acre fire in the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles. Remnants of Tropical Storm John brought the precipitation and darkened the skies over the Angeles National Forest where firefighters have been working on steep slopes since Sunday to put out a blaze in chaparral that hasn’t burned in 15 or 20 years.

With the showers came the risk of dry lightning, which has already started more than 50 fires in California this summer, said National Weather Service specialist Stuart Seto.

The latest fire started northeast of Los Angeles and was 24 percent contained before the rains came, officials said. It was expected to be fully surrounded on Sept. 13.

There were nearly 1,300 firefighters on hand despite the treacherous terrain and slopes between 30 percent and 80 percent. At least five firefighters have sustained minor injuries.

A 25 percent chance of thunderstorms continues in the area through Thursday, Seto said.

Temperatures will decrease a few degrees, but uncomfortable humidity will rise from 20 percent in the morning to as much as 70 percent later in the day, Seto said.

The moisture is the last hurrah from the storm from the south, which got churned up in a low pressure system approaching from the north, Seto explained.

Firefighters can also expect winds from the southwest of about 15 mph, he said. Winds on the fire front could be different, he said, since fires create their own winds.

Besides the rain, nine firefighters from Australia and New Zealand arrived Wednesday to join fire crews and get a firsthand look at tools and techniques being used to battle the blaze, said Los Angeles County fire Capt. Roland Sprewell.

It’s like a firefighter exchange program, he said. “Our fire problems are very similar, although fuel types and fuel models are different, so what we have to teach them is how we apply the various tools, from aircraft to our hand crews to our dozers,” Sprewell said.

Southern California also uses an incident command system, which is used as a model across the nation, he said. When there is a fire, an organization is immediately put into place, so when firefighters and equipment show up at base camp, they find a mini city ready for them, he explained.

By the weekend, a high pressure system should arrive and clear the skies, raise the temperatures and lower the humidity, Seto said.

On the fire lines, crews have eight air tankers, 10 helicopters, 68 engines, eight dozers and 11 water tenders.

Firefighters are still looking for a cause. A burned car was found in the area, but it was unknown if the car caused the fire or was just destroyed by it.

As many as 12,000 people were asked to leave the area over the busy Labor Day weekend. About 25 residents of the nearby community of Camp Williams refused to leave.

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