Calabasas brush fire: 80 percent contained, evacuations lifted

- Firefighters continued to work on steep hillsides, within sight of canyonside neighborhoods in rustic Topanga Canyon Sunday in response to a fire that broke out Saturday in Calabasas.

Temperatures gave firefighters a break today: It was 86 degrees at 2 p.m. in Woodland Hills, down from 100 degrees 24 hours earlier.

That gave firefighters a chance to extend containment lines around 80 percent of the fire by 5 p.m., up from 30 percent at sunrise.

Many of the residents evacuated Saturday from Calabasas were allowed to return home today.

All mandatory evacuations and road closures were expected to be lifted by 6 p.m., said Deputy Fire Chief John Tripp during an afternoon press conference.

About 5,000 people from 3,700 homes were ordered evacuated Saturday from homes in Calabasas and Topanga Canyon. Although evacuation orders for Calabasas were lifted at 2 a.m. today, the northern part of Topanga Canyon was still cordoned off with residents told to stay out.

Neighborhoods and scattered ranch homes along both Old Topanga Canyon Road and Topanga Canyon Boulevard remained under mandatory evacuation orders at midday. Those neighborhoods included Glenview and other subdivisions reached by Topanga Canyon Boulevard north of the traffic signals in the canyon, and south of Mulholland Highway.   

Firefighters estimated that 516 acres of woodlands and brush had burned by sunrise today.

"The fire is on the side of a a mountain, it's not on any road, and we are trying to get firefighters up there,'' Tripp said

"That is a moving fire front, hung up on a midslope of the canyon,'' he said at an early-morning news conference. ``That makes it extremely dangerous to do what is called a direct attack and try to get containment on that.

"We anticipate that if the sun (and) heat gets up and hits the fuel, that fire can get up and get moving again,'' the chief said. "One of the challenges, as we saw yesterday, is that we have extremely stressed vegetation.''

CHP officers had closed Topanga Canyon Boulevard to all traffic between Mulholland Highway and Old Topanga Canyon Road, in the heart of the canyon village. The southern part of the unincorporated Topanga Canyon community was not evacuated, and a roadblock at Pacific Coast Highway prevented all but residents from approaching the village from the Malibu coast.

Two firefighters hurt their knees overnight, as they labored to pull hoses up and down hillsides. A third firefighter suffered a cardiac episode, Tripp said.

An outdoor stage covering at a summer camp near Old Topanga Canyon Road at Mulholland Highway was lost to flames, and two Calabasas homes were singed Saturday, Tripp said.

Four additional structures were damaged, but no homes.

Three fires broke out nearly simultaneously just after 4 p.m. Saturday in the southwestern San Fernando Valley. The largest -- apparently ignited by a traffic crash near Calabasas High School -- merged with a nearby fire to become what firefighters have dubbed the "Old Fire.''

The other fire was at Kittridge Street and Valley Circle in West Hills. City of Los Angeles firefighters doused it at 6:20 p.m. Saturday.

The cause was still under investigation.

A vehicle hit a pole at 4:06 p.m. Saturday, downing lines and causing outages. Two hours later, 181 customers were without power.

All but one customer's electricity was restored by early today, a Southern California Edison spokesman said.

At 2 a.m. today, residents were allowed to go home to Calabasas.

For today, the National Weather Service predicted that morning fog in the area would give way to sun and heat, with wind gusts in canyons up to 30 miles per hour from the southwest.

"In a few hours when it gets hot, we will have the exact same conditions we had yesterday,'' the fire chief Tripp said early in the morning.

Firefighters who had labored overnight were swapped out at sunrise, as fresh crews began to battle the fire.

"This is extremely arduous work to do,'' he said. "We can drop water from the air all day, but we have to have boots on the ground.''

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