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Racing the Flames The California fires touched the lives of athletes great and obscure

On Oct. 28 two golfers, nearing the 9th hole at the TPC course in
Valencia, Calif., saw something strange: Hovering above a water
hazard were several L.A. County Fire Department helicopters,
sucking up water. Once filled, the copters roared off toward the
wild fires raging five miles to the north--buzzing the golfers,
who hit the deck as the choppers passed 10 feet over their heads.

It was a common occurrence in California last week--a sporting
venue commandeered in the battle against the fires that have
killed at least 20 people and destroyed nearly 4,000 homes.
California Speedway, which was to host the CART season finale on
Nov. 1, became a relocation site for displaced families, and the
race was canceled. The parking lot at Qualcomm Stadium also
became a relief site, forcing the Chargers to move an Oct. 27
game with the Dolphins to Tempe. Last week the fires came within
a mile of the Chargers' practice field, forcing the team to hold
a walk-through on a basketball court at the UC San Diego campus.
The Chargers left for Sunday's game in Chicago two days early,
the travel arrangements thrown together by team executive John
Hinek, whose home was destroyed by the fires.

Sprinter Maurice Greene was luckier. "I got my bank and insurance
documents, Olympic gold medals, world championship medals," he
said on Oct. 27 as he abandoned his mansion in Indian Springs.
"I'm putting everything in God's hands." The next day Greene
returned to his house, which wasn't damaged. UCLA's and San Diego
State's football coaches Karl Dorrell and Tom Craft were both
evacuated from their homes, and flames forced featherweight champ
Marco Antonio Barrera out of Oscar de la Hoya's camp in Big Bear.

San Diego County high school sporting events were postponed last
week, but with the fires largely under control, officials and
players hoped the games would resume this week. "Five players
lost their homes," said Scripps Ranch High football coach Sergio
Diaz. "They're tired of watching the bad news on television. They
see football as an escape." --M.B.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO (BARRERA) HOT ZONE Barrera (far left) had to break training; Greeneevacuated.


COLOR PHOTO: TIM TADDER/AP (FIRE) [See caption above]