Fire spares romantic city on Catalina Island off LA coast
AVALON, Calif. Catalina Island struggled to return to normal even as evacuated residents started coming home after firefighters stopped a wildfire from raiding this picturesque town off the Southern California coast.An estimated 10,000 tourists take ferries from the mainland to visit the island each day to lounge on the beach, play golf or take inland tours.But the island remained quiet Friday as nearly 4,000 evacuated residents began heading back to inspect their apartments and homes and reopen businesses that largely cater to tourists. Visitors, however, were still being told to stay away.About 700 firefighters continued to battle the blaze that entered its third day and burned about 4,200 acres the equivalent of about six square miles on the 76-square-mile island.They were aided by a night with temperatures in the 50s and humidity higher than 70 percent far different from the gusty, dry conditions of the fires first day. Containment was estimated at 35 percent.Avalon Fire Chief Steven Hoefs said the fire remained under investigation but it appeared to have been sparked as contractors worked on antennas at a radio station in the islands interior.Only one home and six industrial businesses burned and no one had been seriously injured by Saturday morning, giving firefighters their latest in a string of dramatic victories. About 50 miles away on the mainland, crews just days before beat back flames in Los Angeles sprawling Griffith Park that singed a neighborhood of multimillion-dollar homes.That was the third menacing fire in the Hollywood Hills this spring and wildfire season here isnt supposed to heat up until the fall.This has been one of the driest rainy seasons on record: Just 2 inches have fallen on Catalina this year. Notices in hotel bathrooms warn of drought. Please turn off water while shaving & brushing teeth, they urge.Environmentalists said it was too early to tell how the blaze affected the islands overall ecosystem, home to some rare animal and plant life, including the Catalina Island fox.One thing was sure: Four bald eaglets that hatched earlier this year without human help were unharmed, according to Bob Rhein, a spokesman for the Catalina Island Conservancy which owns most of the island. Scientists have been slowly reintroducing eagles, which were wiped out decades ago by chemical contamination.The islands relative isolation has proven a liability before. A 1915 fire that started in a hotel burned half the towns buildings. And firefighting help from the mainland was needed when 350 acres burned in 1987 and more than 1,000 acres went up in July 2006, but neither blaze was in a heavily populated area.Avalon Mayor Robert Kennedy credited the success of this weeks firefighting to quick-arriving reinforcements from the mainland and training that included dry runs with military hovercraft and helicopter drops.We were overrun, said Kennedy, who as one of about 30 volunteer firefighters helping the islands 13 full-time staff was part of the initial team that confronted flames chewing through brush on the hills outside town.It was a question of whether we were going to get the units who responded from Avalon back to town. … But by sunup it looked like we survived the wrath of the flame, Kennedy said.
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