Arson suspect sought in LA County

Los Angeles county authorities were on Sunday looking for a potential arsonist who may have started a bushfire that forced the mandatory evacuation of around 1,000 people in the exclusive Pacific Palisades area near Topanga Canyon.

Cool and wet overnight conditions prevented the stockade fire from spreading beyond the 750 acres it reached on Saturday, but the LA Fire Department said in an update on Sunday morning that warm weather and afternoon winds could drive the fire northwest – threatening houses – while it is tearing through dense mountain vegetation that is “very dry and has not burned for over 50 years”.

The update said the cause of the fire was “suspicious” and is being investigated.

LAFD spokeswoman Margaret Stewart said a possible fire suspect was seen Saturday but evaded a search by the sheriff’s department.

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As huge clouds of smoke rose over the mountains, firefighters relied mostly on drops of air to fight the fire – which started late Friday night and was zero on Sunday at 10:30 a.m. – as the steep, rough terrain was difficult to cover to reach.

“Bulldozers are working to improve access for firefighters on the ground, but much of the area remains inaccessible,” Stewart said. “This is primarily an airborne operation where both fixed-wing and rotary-wing (helicopters) work together.”

By late morning, the fire had spread to 835 acres, according to a tweet from the Los Angeles County Fire Department that said, “The crews are working on the leading edge of the fire.”

Air quality officials issued a smoking recommendation at least until Sunday afternoon as smoke was puffing near the houses in the area, and advised those exposed to stay indoors.

Regardless of what caused the Palisades fire, California officials and residents are preparing for a harsh fire season in 2021 after a second consecutive winter of below average rainfall burned most of the state in drought conditions and millions of acres of land.

“The fire season in California and the West starts earlier and ends later each year,” says Cal Fire, the state agency for forest fire prevention and control, on its website, citing climate change as the main reason. “The length of the fire season in the Sierra has increased by an estimated 75 days and appears to correspond with an increase in the extent of forest fires across the state.”

The 2020 fire season set records with nearly 10,000 flames and 4.25 million hectares – more than 4% of the national territory – and damaged or destroyed nearly 10,500 buildings.

Contributor: Palm Springs Desert Sun.

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