'Crown Fire' forces residents in Southern California to evacuate homes

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A large pyrocumulus cloud from the Crown Fire covers the skyline of much of the Southland Thursday evening
Image: Matthew Edwards.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Antelope Valley, California — A huge wildfire that has been burning in the High Desert of Southern California since 2:00 pm (2200 UTC) yesterday continues to threaten residents in the city of Palmdale in the Antelope Valley region of the Los Angeles County this afternoon. Mandatory evacuation orders have been set in place, affecting 2,000 homes.

The fire is one of three that ignited yesterday in the Mojave Desert and San Gabriel Mountains. The first was a 30-acre fire that began to the west of Lancaster in the Fairmont area. It was contained and suppressed by mid-afternoon, but the other two fires ignited while firefighters were battling the first. The second fire, the "Briggs Fire", began shortly after 2:00 pm near 8334 Soledad Canyon Road and Briggs Road, south of the freeway. It burned 500 acres south of the 14 Freeway, but the Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACFD) now has it contained, and firefighters are hopeful that it will burn itself out as it edges closer to the 160,577-acre burn area of last year's Station Fire. The third fire, the "Crown Fire", broke out at around the same time as the Briggs Fire on the northern side of the 14 Freeway near Acton. The Crown fire has so far burned 13,000 acres and has been heading north into Leona Valley and Palmdale.

Over 800 firefighters are now tackling the Crown Fire on the ground, Boeing 747 and McDonnell Douglas DC-10 fixed-wing aircraft have taken to the skies to drop Phos-Chek slurry (a red powdery fire retardant that is a mixture of mostly water and fertilizer, and doesn't evaporate) on the fire, and modified Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters known as "Firehawks" are making water-drops. As well as LACFD, firefighters from Los Angeles City Fire Department, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) are also helping to battle the fire. Weather conditions and topography have hindered their efforts, as temperatures rose to 98 degrees Fahrenheit today, with windspeeds of 25mph. Tonight, the National Weather Service predicts winds will reach as high as 50mph.

The fire burned down a Los Angeles County Sheriff Department communications tower, forcing Lancaster and Palmdale-based deputies to set up mobile operations bases and coordinate their efforts using cell phones and computers. Last night, the California Aqueduct acted as a barrier to the fire.

Residents of Leona Valley, Lake Elizabeth, Ritter Ranch, Rancho Vista, Ana Verde and Palmdale received Reverse 911 telephone calls last night alerting them of mandatory evacuations. Many of the evacuation orders were lifted this morning as the spread of the fire decreased. However, as winds picked up in the afternoon, fire embers were carried across the aqueduct and the fire is now heading towards a highly-populated area of Palmdale. Residents who were allowed back into their homes were re-evacuated to Red Cross shelters set up in local schools and parks.The fire is also threatening five high-voltage power lines that supply electricity to much of Southern California. 21 customers in the immediate vicinity have been without power since yesterday.

At 5:00 pm, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, police and fire officials held a press conference. The governor said that the fire was 20% contained and had burned 13,000 acres. It is thought that the fire began when workers in Agua Dulce caused sparks by hammering the bolts when they were removing a tire from a rim.


Sources

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