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LOS ANGELES-In the first major casualty of the nation’s fierce home-improvement store wars, HomeBase Inc. has announced the permanent closure of 22 of its giant warehouse stores in California and the planned conversion of 62 others into home-furnishing outlets.

The Irvine-based company closed 31 of its stores, mostly in Southern California, on Tuesday. The remainder will be shut down in phases, with those selected to be slowly converted to home-furnishings retail stores.

Though the battle for market-share in the home-improvement retail business is fierce, it’s particularly heated in California. HomeBase has been fighting a losing battle against Home Depot, the nation’s No. 1 home-improvement chain, and Lowe’s, which is No. 2. Home Depot started an aggressive expansion campaign on the West Coast about two years ago, and Lowe’s broke into the massive Southern California market in 1999.

HomeBase employs about 10,000 people. Though some layoffs are a certainty, the company says at least some of the workers will be offered jobs at the stores that will be converted into the chain’s new House2Home furniture and accessory stores.

In Los Angeles, the HomeBase on Slauson Avenue near La Cienega Boulevard will be permanently shuttered. Cities also targeted for permanent closure include El Monte, Gardena, Hawaiian Gardens, Industry, Inglewood and Long Beach.

Permanent closures are also being made in Pomona, El Centro, Bakersfield, Moreno Valley, Riverside and Las Vegas, according to a list provided by HomeBase’s Orange County headquarters.

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