Firefighters battle California wildfires, bulldozer operator dies



Crews battling a deadly wildfire in rugged, drought-stricken terrain north of Los Angeles made steady progress in containing the blaze on Wednesday, after a bulldozer operator helping to fight a smaller wildfire in central California died overnight when the machine overturned, officials said.

Some 3,000 firefighters battling the so-called Sand Fire in the Angeles National Forest had extended containment lines around 40 percent of the 38,350-acre (15,520 hectare) blaze by Wednesday morning, according to fire information officer Sam Wu.

Cooler overnight temperatures aided their efforts, he said.

The blaze has destroyed 18 homes as it has torn through drought-stricken chaparral and brush, spewing out smoke that has prompted the South Coast Air Quality Management District to warn residents in parts of Los Angeles County to avoid outdoor activities.

About 300 miles (483 km) to the north, a smaller blaze dubbed the Soberanes Fire continued to threaten some 1,650 properties after destroying 20 homes on Sunday in an area between Big Sur and the scenic coastal town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, officials said.

Firefighters were informed about the death of the bulldozer operator, which occurred overnight at the south end of the Soberanes Fire, before they headed out early on Wednesday, said fire Captain Richard Cordova, a spokesman for the team handling the blaze.

“It makes it real what this job is really about and how dangerous it is,” Cordova said by phone.

Officials had earlier declined to release many details about the death. But Fire Captain Katherine Garver said the bulldozer overturned and that the operator was a private contractor.

The Soberanes Fire has scorched nearly 23,500 acres (9,510 hectares) at the edge of the Los Padres National Forest since it broke out on Friday and some 2,300 firefighters had the blaze about 10 percent contained on Wednesday, officials said.

In Los Angeles County, the lone fatality in the Sand Fire has been identified as Robert Bresnick, 67, whose body was found Saturday inside a burned-out car in a driveway, said Ed Winter, assistant chief Los Angeles County coroner. He had refused to leave the area until it was too late, Winter said.

Acting California Governor Tom Torlakson, who is filling in for Jerry Brown while he is at the Democratic National Convention, declared on Tuesday a state of emergency for Los Angeles and Monterey counties where the fires are located.

The causes of both fires were under investigation.

[Source:- REuters]