LOS ANGELES – A brush fire that broke out Sunday near downtown Los Angeles threatened a densely populated, hilly neighborhood along a freeway as sizzling temperatures elevated fire danger across the West.
Crews knocked down the blaze in the Silver Lake neighborhood after it damaged two homes, destroyed three shed-like structures, scorched yards and sent trees up in flames.
Neighbors scrambled with garden hoses and buckets, while water-dropping helicopters and scores of firefighters chased embers and doused steep hillsides to keep the flames from spreading.
The blaze charred only 8 acres, but it put urban residents on alert to the hot, dry conditions that have helped wildfires spread rapidly across more remote places from the California coast to New Mexico.
A fire that has burned 12 square miles west of Santa Barbara stayed in check, but firefighters braced for the return of afternoon and evening gusts that fanned the flames earlier in the week, threatening hundreds of homes and leading to evacuations of popular coastal campgrounds. The fire was just under halfway contained.
In New Mexico, a fire that erupted last week and destroyed 24 homes in the Manzano Mountains south of Albuquerque was largely uncontained. But higher humidity overnight allowed crews to strengthen lines around the fire and keep a lookout for hot spots where flames could jump the line.
New Mexico, Gov. Susana Martinez directed the New Mexico National Guard to assist in securing communities hit by the wildfire in the central part of the state. Guardsmen will be patrolling and protecting evacuated homes from possible looting. They also will be called on to help with potential flooding.
The blaze, which broke out Tuesday, has burned more than 28 square miles about six miles northwest of Tajique, and it spread a pall of smoke as far as Denver. The damage includes 24 homes and nearly as many structures near the small community of Chilili.
As of Sunday afternoon, the blaze was only 9 percent contained.
In eastern Arizona, a fire that has burned 19 square miles southwest of Show Low advanced south, but containment increased to 40 percent. Firefighters beefed up containment areas on the northern and western sides of the blaze.
Evacuation orders remain in effect for the community of Forestdale.
The fire has burned nearly 19 square miles since Wednesday.
Crews in Utah also made gains against three wildfires in the southern part of the state. A 350-acre wildfire near Cedar City was 30 percent contained, but the blaze still threatened 20 structures including homes and outbuildings.
The Los Angeles fire erupted near a freeway, with flames soaring up tall trees and sending heavy smoke across the road.
Paul Gaffner had been swimming at a pool a few minutes from his home and was planning to run errands when he saw heavy smoke near his house.
“Man, that fire is at my house,” he said he thought.
When he arrived, his neighbor was hosing down flames in his backyard. In his flip-flops and shorts, he joined the fight as neighbors chipped in help protect their houses.
“It was a lot going on,” Gaffner said as he handed out bottles of Gatorade to firefighters. “You’ve got it in front of you, you don’t have time to panic.”