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Calif. fire threatens giant sequoias

A raging wildfire threatened some of America's giant sequoias Tuesday and the Forest Service called in more than 1,000 firefighters in an all-out effort to save the towering symbols of the West.

The 38,000-acre blaze roared through the deep valleys of the Giant Sequoia National Monument and came within 2 miles of the Trail of 100 Giants, a grove of majestic sequoias that are among the largest and most ancient trees on Earth, with trunks up to 1,500 years old and 20 feet in diameter.

As of midday, the fire had consumed only some smaller species of trees and the winds were blowing the flames away from the Trail of 100 Giants. But the blaze was headed toward another stand of the big redwoods, the Freeman Creek Grove.

Forest Service spokesman Matt Mathes called the sequoias "priceless" and said that air tankers and helicopters were also called in to help save the trees. The monument is 130 miles north of Los Angeles.

Sequoias can live more than 3,200 years, their massive trunks capable of withstanding countless fires. But fires can kill them when other trees spread flames to the sequoias' limbs high above the ground.

The danger to the trees is higher than usual because of a considerable amount of underbrush and weeks of extremely dry weather, Mathes said.

"These trees can withstand a lot of fire, but if there's a lot of fuel build-up on the forest floor, and temperature and humidity and winds are not favorable, we could have a problem," he said.

Fire crews were also in place to protect about 200 homes.

The fire was only 20 percent contained Tuesday. And because the monument's deep canyons and mountain ridges make for erratic winds, it was hard to predict where the fire would go.

The Trail of 100 Giants includes 125 giant sequoias over 10 feet in diameter, and more than 143 sequoias under 10 feet in diameter. The largest in the grove has a diameter of 20 feet and is 220 feet tall.

The trees are between 500 and 1,500 years old.

The blaze was not considered a threat to the General Sherman tree, which is in Sequoia National Park, well to the north. At 275 feet tall and 30 feet across, it is considered the nation's largest tree as well as the world's largest living thing based on volume.

Report: Records put Avila

near where girl was found

SANTA ANA, Calif. _ Alejandro Avila's cell phone and credit card records indicate he was in South Orange County _ around the area where 5-year-old Samantha Runnion's body was discovered _ in the hours after her kidnapping, a law enforcement official told the Los Angeles Times.

The records appear to contradict Avila's assertion that he was at the Ontario Mills mall in Riverside County at the time Samantha was abducted just after 6 p.m. on July 15, the police official said.

Avila, who is charged with kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering the girl, maintains he had nothing to do with Samantha's abduction.

Preliminary tests of fibers found on Samantha's body matched fibers found in two cars that Avila had access to, the newspaper reported: a green Ford Thunderbird that belongs to Avila and another car that belongs to a relative. Detectives remain unsure what the fibers are.

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