California resort island is new front

In northern Minnesota, high winds worsen firefighting conditions.

Published May 11, 2007

AVALON, Calif. - A 400-acre wildfire erupted on the getaway spot of Catalina Island on Thursday, forcing evacuations just as firefighters were mopping up a blaze at another Southern California playground, Los Angeles' sprawling Griffith Park.

Officials evacuated residents from hilltop homes on the island's city of Avalon toward the beach, said Los Angeles County fire Capt. Ron Haralson.

"There's an eerie glow over the town. We need to leave, " said Dan Teckenoff, publisher of the Catalina Islander.

The city of Avalon, which covers about 2 square miles, has a year-round population of about 3, 500, according to the city's Web site.

The blaze erupted about 12:30 p.m. 5 miles east of the island's airport. It was fanned by winds moving at 15 mph and gusts of up to 20 mph, Haralson said.

More than 100 firefighters, aided by four water-dropping helicopters, were battling the blaze on the island more than 20 miles off the coast. Crews and fire engines were to be ferried to the island aboard a Navy hovercraft. A huge plume of smoke was visible from the mainland.

Catalina is a long, narrow island covering 76 square miles that is served by ferry boats from Los Angeles, Long Beach and other mainland harbors.

In northern Minnesota, high wind fanned a fire around the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Officials labeled it a "red flag" day, with low humidity making conditions worse.

Authorities ordered an evacuation of an area with cabins and lodges along scenic Gunflint Lake, including the landmark Gunflint Lodge.

"We're back to the conditions we had in the first two days of the fire, " said Daria Day, a spokeswoman for the agencies fighting the fire, which has burned more than 34 square miles and destroyed about 45 structures since it started Saturday.

The shifting winds Thursday put another 100 buildings at risk, fire officials said.

A squad of elite firefighters was taking command of the blaze, which had burned its way into Canada. Nearly 450 firefighters were on the scene Thursday.