World and Nation

Unusual Wildfire Threatens Hundreds of Homes in Calif.

A deadly wildfire that has burned for nearly a week in the foothills north of here threatened hundreds of homes on Monday and frustrated firefighters with its unusually rapid and unpredictable spread.

The fire, burning in rugged terrain at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains about 20 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, has consumed more than 100,000 acres, or more than 150 square miles, about the size of the Bronx and Queens combined.

It has destroyed more than 20 homes, mostly in remote areas, but officials expected that tally to increase as 2,800 firefighters and support personnel struggled to track its erratic spread and keep flames from encroaching on large neighborhoods and communities abutting the wilderness.

Crews were digging trenches and clearing brush on Monday as the northern reaches of the fire marched toward Acton, a community of 3,000 people about 40 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. New evacuations were ordered in the eastern San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles.

The fire, whose cause is unknown, claimed the lives of two Los Angeles County firefighters on Sunday after their truck overturned as they tried to avoid a burst of fire bearing down on them. The men died from injuries suffered in the crash and from the advancing flames, the department said.

A few other people have been injured, including two people who refused orders to evacuate and sought cover from the flames in a backyard hot tub as the fire barreled through the area, the authorities said.

Some 4,000 homes were ordered evacuated, but law enforcement authorities estimated only half of the people complied, preferring to stay behind to try to help save their homes.

Frank Bagheri, 48, who reluctantly left his home near La Canada-Flintridge on Sunday morning with his family, said he saw a few neighbors stay behind hosing down their lawns and houses. “We finally left because I stopped one of the firefighters running around our street,” Bagheri said. “I wanted to ask him whether the fire would go the other way, or if we’d be OK. He just looked at me and said, ‘You don’t want to stay here and get trapped.’ That phrase — stay here and get trapped — did it. I changed my mind at that point to leave.”