1,200 homes evacuated in L.A. County
PALMDALE, Calif. (AP) – A brush fire swept over more than 7 square miles, prompted evacuations and burned structures in rural Los Angeles County Thursday as water-dropping helicopters and crews scrambled to get ahead of the blaze.
Orange flames exploded through dry grasses, jumped roads and sped across the hills that connect Los Angeles to the high desert.
The fire started on the northern side of State Route 14 and burned north and east toward Palmdale, in the suburbs of Los Angeles County’s inland desert, authorities said.
About 1,200 homes in the community of Leona Valley were under mandatory evacuation orders on Thursday evening, Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Matt Levesque said.
KCAL-TV showed at least two structures fully engulfed in flames near where the blaze jumped a road and sent firefighters and sheriff’s deputies scattering.
“Man, it looks bad outside. If I step outside the restaurant, it’s just insane looking – black and orange smoke and helicopters going through, dropping water,” said Jamie Karschamroon, 29, the co-owner of Crazy Otto’s diner in Leona Valley.
As the fire to the north of State Route 14 grew to 2,000 acres, fire officials ordered up more engines, bringing the number of firefighters in the area to about 600, Levesque said.
“It’s fuel and topography driven, but when fires have this much fuel and burn this hot they make their own wind,” he said.
State Route 14 snakes through the San Gabriel Mountains, connecting Los Angeles to the high desert. Angeles National Forest lands lie on either side. The area is west of the 250-square-mile zone scorched by last summer’s Station Fire, the largest wildland blaze in county history.
About 200 firefighters contained another blaze at 350 acres, Levesque said. A third fire was stopped at 30 acres.
Further north in Kern County, good weather helped firefighters build containment lines around two wildfires that destroyed homes in remote mountain communities earlier in the week.
A 2 1/2-square-mile blaze near Tehachapi on the western edge of the Mojave Desert was 44 percent contained after burning about 30 homes and other structures in a scattered community called Old West Ranch.
A pattern of cool, moist morning and evening air was helping firefighters in the Tehachapi area, about 70 miles north of Los Angeles.
Old West Ranch 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 25 square miles of the Sequoia National Forest in the Sierra Nevada was 20 percent contained, authorities said.
The blaze is burning on both sides of the Kern River north of the town of Kernville, a destination for rafting, fishing and hiking in the southern Sierra.
“The crews have made real good progress the last couple of days because of the weather,” said Pete Jankowski, a U.S. Forest Service information officer.
The cooler temperatures and some overcast skies calmed the blaze, in contrast to the initial hours when fire behavior was too dangerous to put firefighters into the steep and rugged terrain.
Many hand crews were doing the labor-intensive work of cutting line, and some were having to camp out, Jankowski said.
“They’re doing their work, eating and sleeping up there so they can get back at it, because it’s such a long distance to get them up there,” he said.
Despite the fire, the region’s summer activities appeared to be getting back to normal, Jankowski said.
“There’s fishermen out there, there’s rafters, there’s kayakers,” he said after returning from Kernville to the command center at Lake Isabella. “Other than some smoke, you wouldn’t know there’s anything else going on.”
The incident command said a task force of federal and Kern County law enforcement officers was formed to investigate the fire, which began before early Monday and was believed to be human-caused.