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Wildfire threatens homes near LA

Hundreds evacuate as winds fan flames

LOS ANGELES -- A wind-whipped 16,000-acre wildfire raced across hills and canyons along the city's northwestern edge yesterday, threatening homes and forcing hundreds of people to evacuate.

About 3,000 firefighters aided by aircraft struggled to protect ridgetop houses along the Los Angeles-Ventura county line, a rugged, brushy landscape west of San Fernando Valley. Officials said the blaze was 5 percent contained as it burned toward such communities as Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, and Agoura.

Numerous homes were evacuated in nine areas, and the Red Cross reported 600 people had signed up to stay at five of its shelters. Poor air quality forced California State University at Northridge to cancel classes for the day.

At least one home and five other structures were lost, but 2,000 buildings had been saved by firefighters, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said.

''We are guardedly optimistic, if the weather cooperates, if the public cooperates," Yaroslavsky said.

Temperatures were in the high 90s but were expected to drop over the next few days while humidity rises. ''The winds have died down substantially, and that's going to be a big advantage for us in getting control," said Los Angeles County fire Captain Kurt Schaefer.

The fire moved west much of the day, menacing Ventura County communities, then sent flanks in the opposite direction as winds shifted from the Pacific. As night fell, long lines of fire marched east toward the wealthy enclave of Hidden Hills and the western fringes of Los Angeles.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known.

David Nenkervis, 64, was away when his home in Santa Susana Pass went up in flames. He returned to find he had also lost vehicles and his dog was missing. ''When you lose everything it's tough to have plans. Right now, my brain is not working. It's all mush," he said.

Authorities said residents took evacuation orders seriously in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

''I wasn't going to get stupid about it," said Jeff Johns, 48. ''There was only one way out, and it was getting real hot."

Another large wildfire in Southern California was 50 percent contained after burning 1,160 acres in Riverside County.

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