Tags: US | California | Wildfires

Crews Beat Back Wildfire in Desert North of LA

Saturday, 31 Jul 2010 11:57 AM

 

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Fire crews working through the night beat back flames and built containment lines around a two-day old wildfire that charred nearly 22 square miles of brush in the high desert north of Los Angeles.

The blaze was 62 percent contained Saturday morning and no structures were threatened, according to Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Sam Padilla.

Crews hoped to close the fire's south flank before temperatures rise and dry winds whip up again as expected Saturday.

"We're getting a handle on it," Padilla said. "As soon as we contain that south end we'll be in better shape."

Padilla said there were no open flames — just smoldering embers — which has significantly slowed the fire's spread.

Officials were prepared to again activate water-dropping aircraft, which helped hold back the fire late Friday when flames jumped an aqueduct and menaced power lines that deliver electricity to Southern California.

Winds apparently carried embers across the wide concrete channel, with flames rapidly spreading to backyard fences at the edge of Palmdale. Plumes of smoke streamed across the city of 139,000 as winds picked up.

Two giant airtankers swooped into the Antelope Valley to drop red flame retardant around the perimeter while helicopters hovered over the aqueduct to suck up water and release it quickly on top of the smoldering hotspots.

"They make a big difference but it's a coordinated aggressive attack with firefighters laying hose, doing structure protection and perimeter control," said Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Frederic Stowers. "It's a tough situation but we're steadily taking chunks out of this fire, protecting the infrastructure — power lines, roads and the like."

Stowers said 1,700 personnel worked in high heat to outflank the blaze and build containment lines around 20 percent of the fire.

Fire officials expect low humidity and high temperatures again on Saturday with winds gusts of up to 50 mph in the foothills in the evening.

As many as 2,300 structures were threatened at the height of the fire late Thursday. Evacuation orders were lifted Friday morning, but some roads remained closed.

One house and three mobile home residences were destroyed, another house had roof damage and various other outbuildings and garages were lost in the horse country region, authorities said.

Most of the homes closer to Palmdale, however, are of recent construction with fire resistant roofs, stucco walls, boxed eaves and landscaped with fire-resistant vegetation, fire officials said.

Maria Norton, 19, expected to be home Friday evening preparing for Saturday's Miss Antelope Valley pageant.

Instead, this year's Miss Leona Valley is in a motel, worrying about her horse, Sally, after fire destroyed her family's stable on Thursday.

"It's kind of all a big nightmare," Norton said.

Sheriff's deputies told her family there was no time to load the horse into a trailer so the college sophomore packed her purple pageant dress and fled, freeing Sally just before flames engulfed the barn.

A few hours later, Norton learned that animal rescuers had taken the horse to local fairgrounds where large animals were being sheltered during the fire.

The fire broke out near a state highway that snakes through the San Gabriel Mountains, connecting Los Angeles to the high desert.

Deputy Fire Chief Michael Bryant said an investigation into the cause of the fire is centering on workers who were hammering on some bolts to remove a tire rim. The workers were cooperating with the investigation.

The blaze spread rapidly after breaking out at midafternoon Thursday, triggering overnight evacuations of about 2,000 homes.

Elsewhere, good weather in neighboring Kern County helped firefighters build containment lines around two wildfires that destroyed homes in remote mountain communities earlier in the week.

Officials said a fire near Tehachapi was 85 percent contained Saturday morning. Damage assessment teams counted 23 homes that were destroyed and eight that were damaged by a fire that sped through about 2 1/2 square miles of heavy brush starting Tuesday afternoon. Crews expected to have the blaze fully contained by Sunday.

To the north, a fire that destroyed eight residences and six outbuildings as it spread across about 26 square miles of the Sequoia National Forest in the Sierra Nevada was 81 percent contained.

Associated Press Writer Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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