- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2007

AVALON, Calif. (AP) — Water-dumping planes and helicopters helped beat back soaring flames that threatened this quaint Catalina Island town yesterday, giving firefighters a victory that allowed nearly 4,000 evacuated residents to start coming home.

Even though the 6-square-mile blaze was only 35 percent contained, the wildfire and thick smoke was confined to the tinder-dry brush in the mountains of this narrow island 20 miles off Los Angeles.

Avalon’s cobblestone streets, brightly painted bungalows, landmark casino and tourist hotels were mostly spared, with only one home and several outbuildings burned. No one was seriously injured.

“Thank goodness the firefighters did get here because that made the difference,” said Martha Ashleigh, 61, who has lived on Catalina on and off for years.

A day earlier, flames bore down from the mountains, raining ash on the crescent harbor. Evacuated residents clambered onto ferries that passed U.S. Navy hovercrafts packed with firetrucks from the mainland.

The cause of the fire, which erupted Thursday afternoon in the 76-square-mile island’s rugged interior, had not been determined.

But Avalon Fire Chief Steven Hoefs said the fire appeared to have been sparked as contractors worked on antennas at a radio station.

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