Battle rages to control nearly 30,000 acre Calif. fire

PALMDALE, Calif. - The Powerhouse Fire that began burning Thursday in the Angeles National Forest, blackening about 29,500 acres and destroying or damaging 15 homes, is not expected to be fully contained until a week from today, authorities said.

With containment at 40 percent as of late this morning, mandatory evacuations remain in effect for the communities of Lake Hughes and Elizabeth Lake and for parts of Green Valley, said Ron Ashdale of the U.S. Forest Service.

About 2,000 people have been evacuated, and it was unclear how long the evacuation order would remain in place.

"Fire officials are now developing a re-entry plan for evacuated residents," incident commanders said in a statement released this morning.

Fifteen homes have been damaged -- six of them destroyed -- and 1,210 structures have been threatened, according to Ashdale, who said nearly 2,200 firefighters have been deployed to fight the blaze. Ground crews were being assisted today by crews in 11 helicopters and eight fixed-wing aircraft.

Meanwhile, authorities were monitoring large power lines and transformers running through the fire region.

"The power lines serve residents through the entire West Coast into Washington state," this morning's statement says. "A redistribution of power grids and lines must be done if the fire impacts the lines. ... If the fire continues to move on its current path, it has the potential to move into an area that houses a solar farm."

Sustained winds of about 25 miles per hour gusting to 40 mph pushed the fire across the California Aqueduct and into the Antelope Valley on Sunday afternoon. Two tongues of fire caused problems Sunday near Muntz Ranch, about 12 miles west of Lancaster, and 10 miles farther west, near the California State Poppy Reserve east of Lebec.

The fire spread out in the linear east-west valley holding the small communities of Lake Hughes and Elizabeth Lake. Portions of the vast area the blaze already has consumed have not been touched by fire since 1929, USFS officials said.

Schools, community centers and parks at Lake Hughes and Elizabeth Lake appeared from the air to have been singed, but not destroyed.

By Sunday afternoon, three major fires burned in steep canyons near those two areas, while a fourth front was burning to the northwest up Pine Canyon Road, into rugged, uninhabited lands east of Interstate 5 at Lebec.

Ashdale said the fire's northern spread was stopped Sunday along a mile-long stretch of the California Aqueduct between Price Canyon and Indian Spring, west of Quartz Hill.

Gusty winds from the south blew embers past fire lines, triggering spot fires in the desert brush. Ground crews were rushed there as helicopters dumped water on them.

A decrease in wind velocity today and a rise in humidity could help in the battle to control the blaze, USFS officials said.

Roads that remained closed today included Bouquet Canyon Road north of Santa Clarita and Lake Hughes Road east of Castaic.

Traffic was blocked on most roads in the foothills southwest of Palmdale, and huge flames were burning along Pine Canyon Road. The backcountry in the Angeles National Forest north and west of the blaze was also declared off limits.

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