US firefighters making progress against wildfire

Fire bosses declared progress today in taming the 226-square-mile arson fire north of Los Angeles that has led to a homicide investigation into the deaths of two firefighters.

Flames had died down this morning and the blaze, which was 38% surrounded, was “pretty quiet,” fire spokesman John Huschke said.

Firefighters were using bulldozers to clear a containment line around the fire, which destroyed 64 homes and burned three people.

The fire has charred 147,418 acres of the Angeles National Forest, where many city residents escape to nature during the summer.

Investigators determined yesterday that the 11-day-old blaze was arson, and Los Angeles County sheriff’s homicide detectives were investigating.

Two firefighters were killed on Sunday when their truck plunged 800 feet down a steep mountain road.

Incendiary material was found along Angeles Crest Highway, the Los Angeles Times reported today, citing an unidentified source close to the investigation. The massive blaze is thought to have started in the area.

Sheriff Lee Baca said details were being withheld in order to avoid jeopardising the hunt for the arsonist.

County Deputy Fire Chief Mike Bryant said he was glad investigators were making progress in the probe, but “it doesn’t mend my broken heart.”

“Those were two great men that died,” he said. “We’ve got to put this fire out so no one else gets hurt.”

“When you find out it is intentionally set, it’s hard to take. A death is a death, but it’s so senseless when it’s deliberately set,” Mr Huschke said.

A tribute for the two fallen firefighters was held before dawn today at the camp. Dozens of firefighters took off their caps and helmets and bowed their heads as the men were remembered with speeches and a moment of silence.

Elsewhere, a 20-acre wildfire broke out just after midnight about 60 miles south-east in Orange County. About 100 firefighters battled the flames in the Cleveland National Forest, county fire Capt Greg McKeown said.

Yesterday, a six-member firefighting crew mopping up in Angeles National Forest was overcome by fumes, apparently from the smouldering remains of a makeshift methamphetamine lab.

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