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Fighters faced walls of flame, arson report says

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RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — Five firefighters who died battling an arson wildfire last month faced 90-foot-tall walls of flame that advanced at 40 mph in a terrifying firestorm fueled by howling winds and tinder-dry manzanita and chaparral, according to a new preliminary report.

The six-page report, released late last week by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, indicates that the combination of the wind, the slope of the terrain and the type of ground cover created an explosive fire situation.

Temperatures at the fire's leading edge reached 1,220 degrees and a column of gas and smoke from the blaze rose to 18,000 feet in the air, the report said.

The fire swept through the mountains about 90 miles east of Los Angeles. It destroyed 34 homes and charred more than 60 square miles before being contained.

Authorities have charged a 36-year-old auto mechanic, Raymond Lee Oyler, with arson and murder in the case. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.