Air attack planned on big California wildfire as evacuations end

By Jacob Adelman, AP
Friday, July 30, 2010

Calif. wildfire forces hundreds from homes

PALMDALE, Calif. — A huge wildfire churned through high desert wilderness north of Los Angeles on Friday, destroying a few buildings and forcing people from about 2,000 homes. Most of the displaced residents were allowed to return as the threat eased.

One single-family home 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.

A DC-10 jumbo jet tanker that can carry 12,000-gallon loads dropped swaths of retardant to block the 12½-square-mile blaze, leaving orange slashes across ridges. Containment was estimated at only 5 percent.

The blaze erupted Thursday afternoon and prompted the evacuation of about 2,000 Antelope Valley homes, but most had returned by early Friday, Los Angeles County fire and sheriff’s officials said.

Flames up to 50 feet high threatened the communities of Leona Valley, Anaverde and Ranch Vista but cool, windless overnight weather helped ease the threat.

Robert Arujo, 60, a retired phone technician, said he and his family watched a scary sight of flames burning fiercely on a hill just over the walls of his Rancho Vista subdivision.

“They looked like they were going to jump over,” he said.

Arujo decided not to leave despite a call from the Sheriff’s Department urging him to do so, and the family spent a tense night barely sleeping.

“It was frantic. Horrific. My wife and daughter were just totally — ‘Should we go? Should we go? Should we go?’ non-stop,” he said.

On Thursday, the fire stopped at the California Aqueduct, which runs along foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. The concrete channel acted as a natural firebreak, fire Inspector Matt Levesque said.

“That fire burned right up to the homes (but there is) no more fuel for it to burn,” he said.

Aircraft and about 750 firefighters were concentrating on protecting the densely populated Palmdale area a few miles away and a cluster of power transmission lines that provide electricity to much of Southern California.

A forecast of gusty afternoon winds and a high of 98 degrees were expected to pose a challenge for crews.

The fire broke out near a state highway that snakes through the San Gabriel Mountains, connecting Los Angeles to the high desert. Angeles National Forest lands lie on either side.

Bryant said fire investigators were focusing on some workers who were trying to remove a tire rim by hammering on bolts. He said the workers were cooperating with the investigation.

Southern California’s big wildfires are usually associated with the fierce Santa Ana winds that blow withering dry air from the interior toward the coast. Winds this week have been blowing inland from out of the southwest as California experiences an unusually cool July with persistent coastal clouds and record lows.

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.

A 2½-square-mile blaze near Tehachapi on the western edge of the Mojave Desert was 46 percent contained after burning about 30 homes and other structures in a scattered community called Old West Ranch.

The community nonetheless remained evacuated, affecting about 150 people, said John Buchanan, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The blaze erupted Tuesday afternoon and rapidly swept through an area where Kern County fire authorities say there is no history of any fires on record, meaning vegetation hadn’t burned there in more than a century.

To the north, a fire that destroyed eight residences and a few outbuildings as it spread across about 26 square miles of the Sequoia National Forest in the Sierra Nevada was 55 percent contained, authorities said.

will not be displayed