LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – More than a thousand firefighters battling the largest wildfire in Los Angeles history contended with erratic winds on Sunday, but more moderate temperatures could help contain a blaze that has forced hundreds to evacuate their homes, officials said.
The nearly 5,900-acre (2400-hectare) La Tuna Fire, named after the canyon area near the northern edge of Los Angeles where it erupted on Friday, has destroyed three homes and damaged one.
Authorities had evacuated more than 700 homes in a Los Angeles neighborhood and in nearby Burbank and Glendale.
The blaze in thick brush that has not burned in decades was slowly creeping down rugged hillsides toward houses and was only 10 percent contained by Sunday.
“Our priority is to put firefighters in a position to protect lives and property,” Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said at a news conference on Sunday. “There’s a lot of fuel out there left to burn.”
Temperatures in the area have hovered around 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) in recent days. But the mercury is expected to ease to between 90 and 94 degrees in most of the area throughout Sunday.
“That is our number one concern,” Terrazas said. “Today and the rest of the week we believe that the weather will become more favorable.”
Fire officials offered the same estimate on the size of the fire as they did on Saturday night, but will update the number later in the day.
Wind speeds in the area were moving at 3 to 5 miles per hour with gusts up to 12 mph, Terrazas said.
“That can change in a moment’s notice and the winds can accelerate very quickly,” he added.
On Saturday night, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti declared an emergency, ordering “all available resources” deployed to protect residents and property. He said the fire was the largest in the city’s history in terms of acreage.
More than 1,000 firefighters from Los Angeles Fire Department and surrounding cities were fighting the blaze, with additional help from state and federal agencies.
Terrazas said at least two firefighters suffered minor heat-related injuries and illnesses.
The fire could make air unhealthy to breathe in parts of Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest city, and nearby suburbs, the South Coast Air Quality Management District said in an advisory.
More than 400 miles (644 km) to the north, the so-called Ponderosa Fire has burned nearly 4,000 acres, or about 1,618 hectares, and destroyed 32 homes in Butte County since it broke out on Tuesday, prompting evacuation orders to residents of some 500 homes. The blaze was 56 percent contained.
Writing by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and Mary Milliken