Evacs lifted, progress made on Crown Fire

PALMDALE, Calif. The fire has burned 13,000 acres and was 20 percent contained Friday evening, and firefighters expected further containment by Saturday morning.

In a Friday afternoon news conference, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said 2,000 structures were threatened in the area. Schwarzenegger said 300 homes were evacuated.

The fire forced three road closures Friday afternoon:

  • Elizabeth Rd., from Bouquet Canyon Rd. to the Palmdale city line.
  • Bouquet Canyon Rd., from Spunky Canyon Rd. to Elizabeth Lake Rd.
  • Godde Hill Rd., from Elizabeth Lake Rd. to Avenue N

All evacuations for the Crown Fire had been lifted by 10:50 p.m. Friday, but Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Nicole Nishida says residents of 500 homes in Rancho Vista have been told to "shelter in place" -- that is, to remain in their homes and heed any future warnings -- until further notice.

The affected area is along Rancho Vista Boulevard, between 50th Street West and 30th Street West, Nishida said, speaking from the Crown Fire command post at Pelona Vista Park in Palmdale.

In addition, there is a hard closure on Elizabeth Lake Road between Godde Hill Road and 25th Street West, in the east Leona Valley area on the south side of the California Aqueduct. The hard closure means any residents who evacuated the area will be unable to get back in until the closure is lifted, Nishida says.

Evacuation centers had been set up in the area:

  • Agua Dulce Elementary School, 11311 Frascati St.
  • Marie Kerr Park, 2730 West Rancho Vista Blvd.

A huge Boeing 747 supertanker arrived at the scene over Palmdale and dropped 20,000 gallons of fire retardant in a line between the fire and nearby residences about 4:30 p.m. Friday.

A DC-10 tanker airplane was also assisting the fight.

Fire crews were using five fixed-wing aircrafts, including the DC-10 and the 747 air tankers, two heli-tannkers, as well as six helicopters, 10 bulldozers and three water-tenders.

Fixed-wing aircraft were grounded after sunset Friday, but water-dropping helicopters remained to fight the fire.

There were more than 1,700 firefighting personnel battling the blaze Friday.

The fire was reported at approximately 3 p.m. Thursday.

According to authorities, there was extreme fire behavior Thursday night into Friday morning. The blaze moved with alarming speed, fed by dry brush and grass and pushed by winds traveling 20 miles per hour. It swept through the rugged country side west of Palmdale, flames leaping 50 feet at times.

Three trailers, a single-family home, three outbuildings, two detached garages, one hay barn and one unknown building were destroyed in the fire, officials said. One residence suffered roof damage.

Officials said critical infrastructure is in the area where the fire is burning, including DWP and Edison lines in the area of Ritter Ranch and Ana Verde.

"These lines support power through Southern California," said Los Angeles County Fire Department Deputy Chief Michael Bryant.

With the Crown Fire threatening power lines Friday, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) issued an energy conservation alert, asking residents to reduce their power usage as much as possible Friday -- as long as it does not compromise their health or safety.

A DWP spokesman says the utility has minimized power imports on a transmission line that passes through the Leona Valley, and is generating power at closer plants to deliver energy to the city. The DWP power system was functioning normally Friday and no fire outages were reported, but the utility is asking its customers to reduce all unnecessary demand on the power system.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for homes in the Leona Valley, Ana Verde, Ritter Ranch and Rancho Vista area, but they were lifted Friday morning. The Red Cross remained at the evacuation center to provide any assistance that is needed. Voluntary evacuations were still recommended by authorities Friday afternoon.

Linda Schomberg, a Palmdale evacuee, said she received a reverse-911 call to alert her of the evacuations.

"We looked outside, and we could see flames up in the hill right behind our house. We've been on vacation so our suitcases were still out," she said.

One Palmdale ranch owner said she is grateful to firefighters after they saved her ranch when it was surrounded by flames.

"It was scary, I'll tell you. My husband and I bought the place in 72. Everything I own is in there," said Phyllis Tremblay, owner of Lazy T Ranch.

The Red Cross is asking people to come to evacuation centers even if they're not planning to spend the night so that they can get everyone registered. It's an extra check for officials to make sure that people got out of their homes.

No injuries were reported .The cause of the fire is under investigation, but investigators are talking to workers in Agua Dulce who were trying to remove a tire rim near the origin of the fire.

"They were using a hammer to try to get the bolts loose, and that's what the investigation is really focusing on right now," Bryant said.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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