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Powerhouse Fire: Crews make major progress; evacuation orders lifted

June 3, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
As winds drop and humidity increases, fire crews are trying to get a better hand on the flames burning in northern Los Angeles County.

As of 11 p.m. Monday, the fire charred 32,008 acres and was 60 percent contained. All evacuation orders were lifted and residents returned home.

The blaze,dubbed the Powerhouse Fire, began Thursday afternoon in the Angeles National Forest. With triple-digit temperatures and high winds, flames raced through the canyons and hillsides very quickly.

See an interactive map of the Powerhouse Fire

The wind-whipped flames have destroyed at least six residences and damaged 9 others in the Lake Hughes neighborhood, but officials saved hundreds of others. More than 1,000 structures were threatened.

U.S. Forest Spokesman Matthew Correlli said firefighters tackled the flames surrounding the two foothill communities from the ground and the air.

"This is predominantly a wind-driven fire so wind has got an alignment with the canyons meaning the wind and canyons go the same way," said Corelli. "The wind pushes through, funnels the fire and that's what has made the fire move in the last two to three days really fast."

The temperatures have dropped, which has helped crews get ahead of the flames but Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Mike McCormick said winds could still pose a problem.

"We still have this wind component that is very aggressive," said McCormick. "The most dangerous part for us firefighters is the wind and how shifty it's been. We want to take advantage of the high humidity, get in there, do a direct attack and do all we can to get some of these hot spots put out so they don't spread anymore."

McCormick said the fire has fed on old brush that hasn't burned in more than 90 years. Full containment isn't expected until next Monday.

Nearly 3,000 people from the foothill communities of Lake Hughes and Lake Elizabeth were ordered to evacuate as helicopters and air-tankers attacked the flames. Those orders were lifted around 4 p.m. Monday.

"We saw the fire flames going up and they were as high as 100 feet tall just all across the canyons," said area resident Pamela Jones.

Jones and her daughter were forced to leave several of their animals behind and were so thankful upon their return Monday that the fire had not reached their home.

"I couldn't believe my eyes because my horses were running up and down the pasture," said Jones. "We had nightmares all night that maybe they had passed away."

Some people who decided not to evacuate said they stood in the face of a wall of flames and fought to save their homes.

"The fire came close to our house and I wanted to protect it," said Lake Hughes resident Bill Beeson. "I built my house and it's my life's work in a sense and I didn't want to lose it."

Lake Hughes resident Paps Imell, who also didn't leave, said he lost his garage and water hoses to the fire, but he was able to save his house.

Firefighters emphasize that when there is a mandatory evacuation in place, they want residents to leave immediately for their own safety.

Shelters and evacuation centers have been set up for those displaced by the fire.

Evacuation Center/Shelters

Marie Kerr Park Recreation Center - Red Cross Evacuation Center
2723 A W Rancho Vista Blvd.
Palmdale, CA 93551

Antelope Valley Fairgrounds - Shelter for large animals
2551 West Avenue H
Lancaster, CA 93536

Local health officials declared air quality in the Santa Clarita and Antelope Valley areas unhealthy until further notice due to the Powerhouse Fire.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District posted an advisory for the Western San Gabriel Mountains and the areas closest to the fire warning residents of unhealthy air quality for sensitive individuals.

The AQMD warns against exercising outdoors, and suggests people with heart or lung disease may need medical attention or may need to temporarily relocate. They urged residents to take precautions and stay indoors if possible.


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