- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 26, 2017

CORONA, Calif. (AP) - Southern California firefighters struggled Tuesday to protect hundreds of homes from a wildfire that surged through suburban canyons, trying to beat back the flames amid forecasts of high winds that could fan the blaze.

Crews hosed down blazing trees within several few feet of homes and one residence was damaged Monday before shifting winds sent flames away from neighborhoods in and around the city of Corona, southeast of Los Angeles.

More than 500 firefighters, aided by helicopters and planes, were trying to contain the flames before the anticipated return of late afternoon winds gusting to 30 mph (48 kph), Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Larry Kurtz said.

“We can play offense” until then, he said.

Near San Francisco, a fast-moving grass fire threatened about 50 buildings, including some homes, and prompted some evacuations. But fire crews quickly stopped its advance.

The 20-acre (80,000-square meter) fire in the Oakland Hills neighborhood of Oakland was about 50 percent contained.

At the height of the Southern California fire, flames climbed hillsides along a partially closed freeway. Schools were closed and at least 300 homes and 1,000 people remained under evacuation orders on Tuesday, Kurtz said.

“We have resources swarming the neighborhoods, constantly patrolling checking for hotspots,” he said. “We can’t afford to let one ember catch hold.”

Some firefighters were being dropped by helicopter onto mountain peaks, Kurtz said.

The fire sent up a huge plume of smoke and rained ash as it swiftly grew to more than 3 square miles (7 square kilometers) after starting early Monday afternoon. It was just 5 percent contained.

Smoke drifted some 40 miles (64 kilometers) west to the ocean and authorities warned of potentially dangerous air quality.

Corona High School was set up as an evacuation center and cars streamed into the parking lot on Tuesday as donors brought fruit, fresh-baked cookies and fuzzy blankets along with water and first-aid supplies, the Los Angeles Times reported (https://lat.ms/2yqVctg ).

As the fire approached Monday, Joey Tu and his family fled their home in Corona’s Sierra del Oro neighborhood.

“It was far away, then suddenly it leaped toward us and boy, we knew what we had to do,” Tu, 48, told the Times.

Tu and his son and daughter tossed belongings into backpacks.

“We never knew it would spread so quickly. Then we saw ashes in our back and front yard and so my dad went for the computers and hard drives,” said Tu’s 9-year-old son, Kyle. “We were all panicking.”

Flames crept down hillsides to the shoulder of State Route 91. The freeway acted as a fire line and blocked the spread of the blaze.

But with some lanes closed, traffic was backed up for several miles (kilometers) and prompted morning commute delays.

The fire burned as temperatures across the state spiked in an ongoing heat wave.

In San Francisco, public libraries, community centers and public swimming pools will serve as cooling centers through Thursday.

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