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Small Wildfires Sweep Through Parts Of California, Bringing Fear Of Worse

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Large swaths of California remained at risk for wildfires Wednesday as dry and windy weather conditions persisted.

Red flag warnings for critical fire weather conditions were posted from Santa Barbara County south through Los Angeles to the U.S.-Mexico border, along the spine of the Sierra Nevada, and in areas east and north of San Francisco Bay.

Fires that struck windy areas of the state on Tuesday were quickly quashed by large deployments of firefighters, aircraft and other equipment before the flames could be stoked by gusts into major conflagrations.

Three homes and outbuildings were damaged on Kimball Island, a marshy slip of land in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

East of Los Angeles, several residences and dozens of vehicles were destroyed by a 2-acre blaze in Riverside County's Jurupa Valley.

Among Tuesday's most dramatic incidents was a brief fire that swept up the steep face of Los Angeles' Pacific Palisades, snarling traffic on Pacific Coast Highway below.

Aircraft swooped in with water drops as firefighters unleashed streams from hoses, preventing damage to multimillion-dollar ocean-view homes.

Large parts of Southern California below mountain passes, canyons and foothills have been buffeted all week by the region's notorious Santa Ana winds.

Spawned by surface high pressure over the interior of the West, the Santa Anas form as the cold air flows toward Southern California, then speeds up and warms as it descends in a rush toward the coast. Some of the most extreme gusts reported by the National Weather Service topped 70 mph.

These offshore winds also raise temperatures to summerlike levels. Many areas have enjoyed temperatures well into the 80s.

California is also under the influence of a persistent upper-level ridge of high pressure anchored off its north coast that has also kept the region generally warm, dry and clear.

Tuesday's wildfires also struck an unusually arid and windy Northern California, where a fire on the small Kimball Island between San Francisco and Sacramento engulfed at least one of the island's 20 buildings and was threatening others, Solano County fire dispatcher Robyn Rains said.

The U.S. Coast Guard was helping with evacuations, and Delta Fire Protection District crews had difficulty getting to the blaze because the site is was only accessible by boat.

No one was injured, and all of the approximately 15 people who were on the island have been accounted for, officials said.

In Southern California, flames were spread by 25 mph winds across a 2-acre property in Riverside County's Jurupa Valley and destroyed two houses, two mobile homes, three motor homes, 40 vehicles in different states of repair and about a dozen small structures, state fire Capt. Lucas Spelman said. Two more mobile homes were damaged.

Alejandro Heredia fled with his 3-year-old child, 15-day-old baby and dog when palm trees began burning in a field behind his home. He said firefighters concentrated on saving his parents' nearby house while his burned.

"We asked for help, and they said that they were doing what they can," Heredia told the Riverside Press-Enterprise. "Everything is lost. There's nothing left."

Deputies ran back into one smoke-filled house that had been evacuated to save a litter of shar-pei puppies when they feared that their owner, who was found crying in the evacuation area, was about to head back in herself, sheriff's Sgt. Red Heard said.

Two deputies came out of the house with the 20-week-old puppies in their arms, but the dogs' parents couldn't be found after the blaze.

"How are they going to survive without their mom?" the 19-year-old owner Carla Guardado told the Press-Enterprise.

By nightfall, 110 firefighters had the fire fully contained.

"The reason why we got an upper hand so quickly is because the wind had actually subsided for about 10 minutes," allowing a breathing space for firefighters, Spelman said.

In Los Angeles, a SuperScooper aircraft dumped tons of water on streams of flame that rolled up a steep cliff side along Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades on Tuesday afternoon. The flames crept within feet of multimillion-dollar cliff-top homes, but none were damaged.

The fire was knocked down in about 1 1/2 hours, but the highway remained closed for several hours more until one lane was opened in each direction.

Earlier, more than 100 firefighters and two helicopters responded when a large house caught fire in the Chatsworth area of the San Fernando Valley and strong gusts threatened to spit embers into a neighborhood downwind.

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