An arson fire roared through the Baldwin Hills neighborhood yesterday afternoon, killing at least two persons, injuring 11 others and destroying 52 homes.

Thirteen other homes were damaged, Deputy Fire Chief Donald Anthony said. Mayor Tom Bradley declared a state of emergency, and officials estimated damage at more than $15 million in the area 10 miles southwest of downtown.

Flames spread across rooftops and leaped more than 100 feet into the air, and an airborne traffic reporter said houses were "going up like matchsticks." Fire Chief Don Manning said the fire was set.

Police said flames roared without warning up a hill and through a housing development. An eyewitness said someone in an automobile on the hill "threw some type of object out and started the fire."

The Baldwin Hills fire was the latest of several that have charred more than 72,000 acres in California, Arizona and Idaho.

U.S. Marine helicopters were used to drop water on one fire, and 600 children were evacuated from a summer camp in the path of another.

Six major fires raged out of control, including a 6,000-plus-acre blaze threatening the camp and residents in Ojai, north of Los Angeles. But firefighters, burning fuel in the fire's path, neared containment of the largest blaze in California, 20,600 acres near Palm Springs.

Firefighters were spread so thinly that park rangers at Cleveland National Forest, which straddles Riverside and Orange counties, closed two-thirds of the 160,000-acre forest, officials said, because no one would be available to fight a fire if one started