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EXTREME TEMPERATURES TORTURE SOCAL.

Byline: Staff and wire reports

As record-high temperatures baked Southern California again Monday, the 2004 wildfire season opened with firefighters battling blazes that covered more than 5,000 acres and forced hundreds of people to evacuate.

The five fires were spaced far apart from each other in parts of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego counties, where temperatures climbed to 100 degrees.

Monday evening, firefighters contained a 50-acre blaze that broke out Monday near a Los Angeles County jail in Castaic, said Los Angeles County fire Capt. Mark Savage.

``We have the wind to our side, and we have a good distance from the prison, so we should be fine with that.''

Firefighters could be getting some much-needed relief soon, as temperatures are expected to begin cooling down today throughout the region after two days of record daily highs, which led the state's power grid monitor to announce a transmission emergency on Monday.

``We're going to get more of this 90-plus degree weather throughout the next 90 days, but we're also going to see a lot of days in the 70s to keep it normal,'' said meteorologist Bruce Rockwell with the National Weather Service.

Temperatures in downtown Los Angeles on Monday reached a sizzling 101 degrees at 12:22 p.m., beating the previous record for the day of 95 set in 1984. On Sunday, the temperature reached 98 degrees, six degrees above the daily record set in 1947.

The heat wave came after downtown weather reached 102 degrees on Wednesday, beating a record set in 1881.

``We're under a high-pressure system that causes a lot of heating,'' Rockwell said. ``The wind is also moving off the land and keeping the sea breeze from coming in.''

The agency monitoring the state's power grid called for voluntary reductions in electricity use Monday after the grid reached its limit at 2:30 p.m. The California Independent System Operator estimated the peak load reached 40,451 megawatts.

A Riverside County fire that broke out Monday afternoon in Corona spread across hundreds of acres in less than three hours, said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman Becky Luther. She said the blaze threatened up to 30 homes.

Authorities ordered a mandatory evacuation Monday afternoon of several homes in the path of a Riverside County fire in the rolling hills south of Temecula. They had previously advised residents of about 100 homes to evacuate.

The fire destroyed two buildings used by UC Riverside researchers: a home and a facility for tagging birds and other research. They were located in a particularly vulnerable, heavily forested area of a nature preserve.

``They are just totally burned to the ground. All that's left is a couple of pieces of steel,'' said Rick Cook, emergency services coordinator for Riverside County.

The fire had burned across thousands of acres and was 30 percent contained Monday morning, but officials expected it to keep spreading toward Cleveland National Forest and the San Diego County line.

Many of the homes closest to the flames were in Dorland Mountain Colony, a small artists' retreat. About eight artists evacuated Sunday night and were unable to return Monday to recover valuable antiques and art.

``There's a lot of treasures there,'' said Karen Parrott, executive director of the colony.

There were 945 firefighters facing down the blaze, which had burned across a low ridge and still had plenty of brush, trees and other fuel in its path, said CDF spokesman Steven Diaz. It was driven by a light wind.

``It's in a real rough and rugged area, steep terrain,'' Diaz said. ``There's a lot of fuel to burn.''

One firefighter suffered smoke inhalation, and another got debris in his eye, Diaz said.

The Red Cross set up a shelter for evacuees at the Temecula Community Recreation Center.

Firefighters said they had managed to slow a fire that burned more than 1,800 acres near the Camp Pendleton Marine base. It was about 75 percent contained, with no structures damaged and no injuries reported.

CDF spokesman Matt Streck said he drank 1 1/2 gallons of water while monitoring the Camp Pendleton blaze from the fire lines.

``Our biggest challenge right now is keeping our firefighters hydrated and keeping everybody safe because it's very unseasonably warm,'' Streck said. ``The relative humidity is so low your lips get chapped.''

Full containment was expected Wednesday, said Camp Pendleton spokesman Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin. The fire was headed east toward an area burned by a 2002 fire, which was expected to slow its progress, Goodwin said.

On Sunday, sheriff's deputies asked 80 families to voluntarily leave their homes and go to an evacuation center set up by the Red Cross at Fallbrook High School. No mandatory evacuation orders had been issued, Goodwin said.

A fire just east of Lake Elsinore had burned across 350 acres and was about 70 percent contained Monday. About 340 firefighters were battling it, aided by water-dropping aircraft. One structure was burned, but it was not a home, said Lorri Larson, spokeswoman for the Riverside County Fire Department.

One firefighter suffered heat stroke battling the blaze and another sprained an ankle. A third firefighter was reported injured from dehydration while working the Wolf Valley fire.

The fires began as Southern California was in the grip of a record-setting spring heat wave. Temperature records had been set by Monday afternoon in several Southern California cities, according to the National Weather Service.

CAPTION(S):

3 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Chad Britton of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection sets backfires along Highway 79 near Temecula.

Ric Francis/Associated Press

(2 -- color) Angela Trinh, 24, wields a parasol to stay cool Monday in downtown Los Angeles, where the mercury hit 101 degrees.

Tina Burch/Staff Photographer

(3 -- color) Steve Hallett of Tustin dives off his personal watercraft into Castaic Lake on Monday.

Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:May 4, 2004
Words:981
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